Plight of the Honeybees—Part Two

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In April, European regulators suspended for two years the use of systemic pesticides related to nicotine called neonicotinoids, which, in high doses, can cause paralysis and death in insects.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not suspended their use – although the Oregon Department of Agriculture stopped the use of 18 products containing one of the related chemicals after two massive bee kills in June while it investigates the incidents.  The EPA established a Pollinator Protection Workgroup in 2011. It also is reevaluating risk assessment standards that have been used since the 1950s, which only measure direct killing effects on adult bees and do not account for sub-lethal and accumulative effects of chemicals on the social lives of bees inside the hives – the queens, nurse bees, drones and developing larvae.

bees close up

Honeybees, which were introduced to the United States from Europe beginning in 1662, began disappearing in huge numbers here in 2004 and 2005. By 2006, the disappearance got a name: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

In Fort Myers, commercial beekeeper Dave Mendes says, “Varroa mites are in the center and pesticides are in the thick of it because bees are exposed to them either on agricultural crops or because beekeepers use them to control mites. It’s a crappy position for beekeepers to be in.”

Eric Mussen, extension apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, describes CCD this way: “Foragers stop returning to the colony. They leave and don’t come back. Once you deplete the foragers, then the house bees come out and don’t come back.  Only a handful of bees with no experience of flying and the Queen are left. That handful of bees cannot take care of the queen. And eggs, larvae and pupae are left behind. The few bees cannot keep the brood alive. You normally cannot pry nurse bees off brood with a crow bar, but in this case they leave. They just go.”

Yet, entomologist Jamie Ellis, who directs the University of Florida’s Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab, says “CCD is only responsible for a fraction of the losses. I don’t even use the term anymore. When you combine mites, pesticides and nosema [virus], that’s when you get losses. I wonder if we haven’t already discovered the factors and are unwilling to believe there is not a single smoking gun. Pesticides are one of the stressors but not the only stressor.”

Read more about bees and pesticides:
"How to Reduce Bee Poisoning from Pesticides."