Honeybees Pick Up an Alarming Number of Pesticides from Non-Crop Plants, Purdue Researchers Find

Honeybees Pick Up an Alarming Number of Pesticides from Non-Crop Plants, Purdue Researchers Find

1st July 2016

By Carolanne Wright

Contributing writer for Wake Up World

Honeybees have had a hard time over the last several decades — colony collapse disorder, habitat destruction and exposure to increasing levels of chemicals in the environment. Approximately 40% of bee colonies in the U.S. perished last year, and the numbers are climbing.

Dr. Dennis van Engelsdorp, an entomologist from the University of Maryland, believes there are three factors influencing the decline in honeybees: The varroa mite, poor nutrition and pesticides. Researchers are especially concerned about the latest findings from Purdue University, which found honeybees pick up an ‘astonishing’ level of pesticides during their rounds — much higher than previously thought.

Decline of the Honeybee:

Below are the three components listed by Dr. van Engelsdorp that are synergistically wiping out the bee population in the United States:

Varroa destructor mites are assumed to have migrated to the U.S. in the 1980s. The mites latch onto the honeybee and suck its blood — leading to death in many. Unfortunately, the mite spreads easily from one colony to another, killing entire populations of the insect.

Pesticides have garnered quite a bit of press in the media — especially a class called neonicotinoids — as exceptionally damaging to bees and other pollinators. Glyphosate — otherwise known as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready — has also been implicated in colony collapse disorder. The herbicide is a neurotoxin, causes endocrine hormone and immune disruption, destroys beneficial bacteria and stimulates fungal overgrowth in bees.

Habitat destruction contributes to dwindling numbers of the insects because it fosters poor nutrition within the colonies. Time magazine reports:

“Bees need a varied diet of different pollens in order to grow into strong, healthy workers,” explains Dr. Heather Mattila, a honeybee biologist at Wellesley College. Unfortunately, a country once filled with meadows of diverse, pollen-packed wildflowers is now blanketed by crops, manicured lawns, and mown fields barren of pollen sources. “A green space can be a green desert if it doesn’t have flowering plants that are bee-friendly,” Mattila adds.”

Needless to say, beekeepers, farmers, scientists and government officials are worried — for good reason. Not only is it unacceptable to lose almost half of the bee colonies in the U.S. from an ethical standpoint, but the loss will also severely impact growing food, exports, farms and the entire economy of the country. Particular crops will be impossible to grow without enough honeybees — like almonds, certain berries and apples. Bees also contribute around $15 billion to U.S. crop production. Financial and moral implications aside, another aspect is now drawing attention to the plight of the honeybee — pesticide contamination in honey and bee pollen.

Agricultural and pest management chemicals don’t respect boundaries.

Scientists have know for some time now that a shockingly high number of honey products are contaminated with Roundup Ready. As I wrote in Glyphosate Nation: Troublesome Roundup Herbicide Found Throughout U.S. Food Supply — Organics Too:

“Out of the 69 honey samples evaluated, forty-one (59%) exhibited glyphosate residues above the established LOQ — ranging between 17 and 163 ppb, with an average mean of 64 ppb. What’s more, five of the eleven organic honey samples (45%) tested positive for glyphosate with a range of 26 to 93 ppb and a mean of 50ppb.”

Since the team didn’t track glyphosate residues below the limit of quantification, there’s a good chance the honey tested may contain the herbicide in more samples than the study indicates. The overall picture could be much worse.

And now researchers at Purdue University have uncovered another disturbing trend: exceedingly high levels of pesticides in bee pollen. However, a significant portion of the toxins weren’t from agricultural crops but from pesticides used by homeowners and urban landscapers.

“Although crop pollen was only a minor part of what they collected, bees in our study were exposed to a far wider range of chemicals than we expected,” said Christian Krupke, professor of entomology at Purdue University. “The sheer numbers of pesticides we found in pollen samples were astonishing. Agricultural chemicals are only part of the problem. Homeowners and urban landscapes are big contributors, even when hives are directly adjacent to crop fields.” [source]

According to the university press release, residues of pesticides were detected from nine chemical classes, including neonicotinoids (used on corn and soybean seeds) and pyrethroids (typically used to control mosquito populations and other pests). In fact, pyrethroids were found to be in the highest concentration of all the pesticides detected. While both neonicotinoids and pyrethroids are toxic to bees, pyrethroids are particularly dangerous because they are used in areas bees are most likely to visit — near homes and gardens that have a variety of different flowering plants. This in turn exposes bees to higher levels of chemicals more frequently — not just in a specific crop growing season. There was also a spike in pyrethroids contamination in August and September — two months where homeowners spray the chemical to control mosquitoes, hornets and other pests. DEET — a highly toxic insect repellant — was also detected in the bee pollen.

Elizabeth Long, an assistant professor of entomology at The Ohio State University, said she was “surprised and concerned” by the diversity of pesticides found in pollen. She adds, “If you care about bees as a homeowner, only use insecticides when you really need to because bees will come into contact with them.”

Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Ditch insecticides. Instead, try this DIY herbal repellant and explore these landscaping ideas to naturally reduce pests.
  • Petition local government to abandon the use of Roundup Ready and pyrethroids altogether — especially in public spaces like parks and landscaping around government buildings. Likewise, send a strong message to your local home improvement and gardening centers to phaseout harmful pesticides and herbicides from their stores.
  • Participate in a “Great Seed Bomb” to encourage pollinator habitats or, better yet, organize one yourself to multiply the impact.

Article sources:

About the author:

Carolanne WrightCarolanne Wright enthusiastically believes if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change. As a nutritionist, natural foods chef and wellness coach, Carolanne has encouraged others to embrace a healthy lifestyle of organic living, gratefulness and joyful orientation for over 13 years.

Through her website Thrive-Living.net, she looks forward to connecting with other like-minded people from around the world who share a similar vision. You can also follow Carolanne on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Further reading from Carolanne Wright:


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  • ThriveLiving

    If you would like to help protect pollinators, take a few moments and send the following letter to your representatives: http://action.foe.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=20011

    Dear Senator:

    I urge you to co-sponsor Senator Merkley’s Pollinator Recovery Act of 2016 to help protect pollinators and our food supply. This bill seeks to do the following:

    • It emphasizes the development and adoption of novel integrated pest and vegetation management practices that reduce the application of pollinator-toxic insecticides and herbicides that can impact pollinator health and the abundance of habitat and forage.

    • Requires USDA to consider regionally appropriate, pollinator-friendly seed mixes when developing and implementing conservation plans for agricultural land holders in areas with highly erodible soils.

    • Offers financial and technical assistance for growers to implement a variety of conservation practices and restoration efforts on active and retired lands.

    • Establishes an intramural native pollinator surveillance program and an extramural grant funding program for pollinator health monitoring and population tracking.

    In recent years pollinators have been declining at an alarming rate. In the past ten years, beekeepers have lost an average of 40% of their hives. In the past twenty years, monarch butterflies have declined by nearly 90% and many native bees are declining rapidly too. For example, the rusty patched bumblebees has declined in 87% of its historic range in recent years.

    These figures are alarming considering pollinators are essential to every one in three bites of food we eat and contribute as much as $577 billion directly to global food production. Pollinators are critical to the health of our food system and environment.

    The rapid decline of pollinators is tied to a number of factors including climate change, loss of habitat, pests and pesticides. This bill would help to address many of these factors by expanding conservation programs and pollinator-habitat, reducing the use of pollinator-toxic pesticides and supporting further research on native pollinator species, which are in great need of further study.

    Senator Merkley’s bill modernizes agricultural statutes and enhances conservation activities to deliver creative solutions that protect America’s pollinator species and the vital agricultural systems they serve.

    As your constituent, I urge you to help reverse the decline of pollinators and protect our environment and food supply by co-sponsoring The Pollinator Recovery Act of 2016.