A new pair of studies conducted by Sterling University suggests that the use of neonicotinoid pesticides places bee populations in significant danger. Neonicotinoids became widely used in the 1990s, in large part because it has little effect on humans while being very effective against insects, acting as a nerve poison to prevent important messages from being processed. According to Rowan Jacobsen, these pesticides cause interruptions in the same receptor affected by Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease in humans. The symptoms include "disorientation, short-term memory loss... tremors, spasms, and eventually paralysis and death."
What makes neonicotinoids so attractive to
farmers is that they are systemic insecticides; instead
of polluting the air and water, they spread through the plant itself.
When insects snack on the leaves of treated plants, they die.
Unfortunately, this is also true for bees, who dutifully collect pollen
to bring back to their hive, essentially dosing the entire colony with
poison... if they can make it that far. Part of what makes this
chemical so dangerous to honeybees is that it causes such severe
disorientation that affected bees are just not as likely to find their
way home. In one of the studies published by Science magazine,
"free-roaming honeybees were tagged with
RFID chips that allowed researchers to track their movements. When
dosed with a neonicotinoid, bees were more than twice as likely as
non-dosed controls to die outside their hives."
neonicotinoid use point out that farmers have strict limits placed on
how much of the chemical they can use in their fields, and that the
levels they use are hardly strong enough to endanger bees. But no two farmers are alike. While one farmer may be
using one pesticide, his neighbor is using 2 others, and so on. When a
bee can cover upwards of 15,000 acres, it is scary to consider the
variety of chemicals with which they come into contact, and what the
compounded effect is. A single shot of tequila may not have much
effect on me, but how do I look when I follow it with a margarita, a beer, a
gin and tonic, and long island iced tea? Certainly don't ask me to
drive home, because I probably wouldn't make it.
"The fundamental problem isn't neonicotinoids," says James Frazier, a
Penn State entomologist. "We're making ourselves the guinea pigs. I
don't think that's what a rational society should be doing." It is
certainly disconcerting to consider the effect of pesticides on bee
populations (not to mention other stressors like poor nutrition, new
diseases, and shipment). But bees are not the only pollinators, so how
is it that native insects vital to the health of diverse ecosystems are
faring? And what can we possibly do about it?
Check out these web pages for more information:
wired.com: Controversial Pesticide Linked to Bee Collapse
The Telegraph: Pesticides Harming Bee Populations, Researchers Suggest
BBC News: Insecticide Blamed for Bee Deaths by Stirling University Study
Also pick up Rowan Jacobsen's "Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis"