Sunday, January 23, 2011

Toxic Effects

The honey bee has been compared to the coal miner’s canary. Coal miners used the fragile birds as indicators of the condition of mines. As long as the canaries could breathe the mine’s air and continue singing, the atmosphere was considered safe enough for the miners to breathe. The death of the canary meant that the mine was in trouble. The death of honey bees may indicate that the environment is in trouble. Beekeepers experienced heavy losses of colonies throughout the Mississippi River Delta region this past summer. During a summer that set records as the hottest in recorded history, pest insect populations exploded in the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas. Army worms and soybean loopers covered cotton and soybean plants, often stripping the plants of leaves. In response, growers sprayed broad-spectrum insecticides on these plants, which are highly attractive to honey bees and other pollinators. Broad-spectrum insecticides kill all insects, including beneficial pollinators, not just the targeted species. Some of the sprayed pesticides are considered persistent, meaning that they remain in the environment for a long time. For the honey bees, the summer-time insecticide sprayings were particularly damaging. Many of the crops sprayed with insecticides for the summer’s break-out of insect pests had previously been treated with systemic insecticides. Here, insecticide-coated seed poisoned the entire crop plant. Honey bees cannot detoxify multiple toxins in their bodies. With their immune systems severely damaged, the bees were attacked by multiple pathogens: bacteria, viruses, and funguses. Sick bees left the hives to die without contaminating the colony. Bees disoriented by neurotoxins were unable to navigate back to the hive and died.

The spraying of broad-spectrum insecticides in the summer resulted in heavy losses for the Delta beekeepers. Native pollinators were surely decimated as well. Continuous use of pesticides results in replacement of pest populations with new, chemical-resistant pest populations. My queen evaluation bee yard, shown dusted in light snow, lost more than one fourth of its colonies of workers, drones, and queens.


  1. "Continuous use of pesticides results in replacement of pest populations with new, chemical-resistant pest populations".

    never fear! chemical corporations will rise to the challenge. the profit-machine chases its mechanized tail, to the delighted claps of shareholders.

    snarkiness aside - I am so sorry about the loss of your bees Richard.

  2. Dear fellow beekeeper,
    Thank you for your concern and kind words. It is easy to blame the chemical corporations for the loss of our bees. I’m glad that they are producing insect control products; I just wish that they were being used more prudently. Heavy, continuous use of broad-spectrum insecticides kills the beneficial insects along with the vast majority of pest insects. This leaves a small number of chemical-resistant pests to rapidly repopulate. That seems to be the case here in the Delta where soybean loopers were thriving on crops treated with systemic insecticides. Soybean loopers are serious pests of both soybeans and cotton, and they are resistant to most chemical pesticides.

    Beekeepers have learned to make additional colony divisions and adjust colony management practices to make up for annual losses averaging 30 percent. I will replace my lost colonies in the spring. What I cannot immediately replace is the queens and drones that I spent eight years of careful selective breeding to develop for resistance to Varroa mites. My snarky comment: The farmers who ordered the aerial spraying that killed the bees lost more from reduced crop yield due to the lack of pollinators than the cost of my honey bees. If they continue using such tactics, I predict the pests will become more damaging and crop yields will suffer.

  3. So sorry to hear about your own bees but it makes me so sad and frustrated on a world wide, what are we doing, level. i feel it is hard for 1 person to make a difference. That is why i sometimes blog about eco friendly stuff. on a more slowly (I hope growing) positive note there is a University that got a large grant to study pesticides and the bee's brain to proove what effect it is having. read more at

  4. Sorry, wrong link at
    The link above was what some kids are doing for the environment. There is hope in the next generation!?!