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The Trouble with Beekeeping in the Anthropocene

by Bryan Walsh via

The beepocalypse is on the cover of TIME, but it looks like managed honeybees will still pull through. Wild bees—and wild species in general—won’t be so lucky in a human-dominated planet.

I’ve written this week’s cover story for the magazine, on the growing threat to honeybees. You can read it (with a subscription) over here. The short version: beginning nearly a decade ago, honeybees started dying off at unusually and mysteriously high rates—this past winter, nearly one-third of U.S. honeybee colonies died or disappeared. At first this appeared due to something called colony collapse disorder (CCD); hives would be abandoned without warning, with bees seemingly leaving honey and intact wax behind. The apocalyptic nature of CCD—some people really thought the disappearance of the bees indicated that the Rapture was nigh—grabbed the public’s attention. More recently, beekeepers have been seeing fewer cases of CCD proper, but honeybees keep dying and bees keep collapsing. That’s bad for our food system—bees add at least $15 billion in crop value through pollination in the U.S. alone, and if colony losses keep up, those pollination demands may not be met and valuable crops like almonds could wither.

More than the bottom line for grocery stores, though, the honeybee’s plight alarms us because a species that we have tended and depended on for thousands of years is dying—and we don’t really know why. Tom Theobald, a beekeeper and blogger who has raised the alarm about CCD, put that fear this way: “The bees are just the beginning.”

But while we don’t now we exactly what causes CCD or why honeybees are dying in larger numbers, we do know the suspects: pesticides, including the newer class of neonicotinoids that seem to affect bees even at very low levels; biological threats like the vampiric Varroa mite; and the lack of nutrition thanks to monocultures of commodity crops like wheat and corn, which offer honeybees little in the way of the pollen they need to survive. Most likely, bee deaths are due to a mix of all of those menaces acting together—pesticides and lack of food might weaken honeybees, and pests like Varroa could finish them off, spreading diseases the bees don’t have the strength to resist. Unfortunately, that means there’s no simple way to save the honeybees either. Simply banning, say, neonicotinoids might take some of the pressure off honeybees, but most scientists agree it wouldn’t solve the problem. (And getting rid of neonicotinoids would have unpredictable consequences for agriculture—the pesticides were adopted in part because they are considered safer for mammals, including human beings.) Honeybees are suffering because we’ve created a world that is increasingly inhospitable to them.

Still, for all the alarm, honeybees are likely to pull through. As I point out in the magazine piece, beekeepers have mostly managed to replace lost colonies, though at a cost high enough that some long-time beekeepers are getting out of the business altogether. Beekeepers are buying new queens and splitting their hives, which cuts into productivity and honey production, but keeps their colony numbers high enough to so far meet pollination demands. They’re adding supplemental feed—often sugar or corn syrup—to compensate for the lack of wild forage. The scientific and agricultural community is engaged—see Monsanto’s recent honeybee summit, and the company’s work on a genetic weapon against the Varroa mite. Randy Oliver, a beekeeper and independent researcher, told me that he could see honeybees becoming a feedlot animal like pigs or chickens, bred and kept for one purpose and having their food brought to them, rather than foraging in the semi-wild way they live now. That sounds alarming—and it’s not something anyone in the beekeeping industry would like to see—but it’s also important to remember that honeybees themselves aren’t exactly natural, especially in North America, where they were imported by European settlers in the 17th century. As Hannah Nordhaus, the author of the great book A Beekeeper’s Lamenthas written, honeybees have always been much more dependent on human beings than the other way around.

(MORE: Behind the Bee’s Knees: The Origins of Nine Bee-Inspired Sayings)

The reality is that honeybees are very useful to human beings, and species that are very useful to us—think domesticated animals and pets—tend to do OK in the increasingly human-dominated world we call the Anthropocene. But other wild species aren’t so lucky—and that includes the thousands of species of wild bees and other non-domesticated pollinators. Bumblebees have experienced recent and rapid population loss in the U.S., punctuated by a mass pesticide poisoning in Oregon this past June that led to the deaths of some 50,000 bumblebees. A 2006 report by the National Academies of Science concluded that the populations of many other wild pollinators—especially wild bees—was trending “demonstrably downward.” The threats are much the same ones faced by managed honeybees: pesticides, lack of wild forage, parasites and disease. The difference is that there are thousands of human beings who make it their business to care for and prop up the populations of honeybees. No one is doing the same thing for wild bees. The supposed beepocalypse is on the cover of TIME magazine, but “you don’t hear about the decline of hundreds of species of wild bees,” says Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

That’s meant almost literally—we don’t hear them anymore. The plight of the bees illustrates our outsized influence on the this planet as we reshape it—consciously and not—to meet our immediate needs. But just because we have this power doesn’t mean we fully understand it, or our impact on our own world. We are a species that increasingly has omnipotence without omniscience. That’s a dangerous combination for the animals and plants that share this planet with us.  And eventually, it will be dangerous for us, too.

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Join us August 17th for National Honey Bee Day!


Learn the WAGGLE DANCE and send it to us to bee in our compilation video!!


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The Plight of the Honeybee



Mass deaths in bee colonies may mean disaster for farmers–and your favorite foods

You can thank the Apis mellifera, better known as the Western honeybee, for 1 in every 3 mouthfuls you’ll eat today. Honeybees — which pollinate crops like apples, blueberries and cucumbers — are the “glue that holds our agricultural system together,” as the journalist Hannah Nordhaus put it in her 2011 book The Beekeeper’s Lament. But that glue is failing. Bee hives are dying off or disappearing thanks to a still-unsolved malady called colony collapse disorder (CCD), so much so that commercial beekeepers are being pushed out of the business.

So what’s killing the honeybees? Pesticides — including a new class called neonicotinoids — seem to be harming bees even at what should be safe levels. Biological threats like the Varroa mite are killing off colonies directly and spreading deadly diseases. As our farms become monocultures of commodity crops like wheat and corn — plants that provide little pollen for foraging bees — honeybees are literally starving to death. If we don’t do something, there may not be enough honeybees to meet the pollination demands for valuable crops. But more than that, in a world where up to 100,000 species go extinct each year, the vanishing honeybee could be the herald of a permanently diminished planet.

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How Fast Can a Honey Bee Fly?


A honey bee can beat its wings 230 times every second. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee can beat its wings 230 times every second. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)


We captured these photos today of a honey bee nectaring on catmint (genus Nepeta). The bee was moving fast. To blur the wings, we set the shutter speed at 1/640 of a second with an f-stop of 13 and IS0 of 800.

But just how fast can a honey bee fly?

Its wings beat 230 times every second, according to Douglas Altshuler, a researcher at California Institute of Technology who co-authored research, “Short-Amplitude High-Frequency Wing Strokes Determine the Aerodynamics of Honeybee Flight,” published in  December 2005 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The honey bees have a rapid wing beat,” he told LiveScience in an interview published in January 2006. “In contrast to the fruit fly that has one-eightieth the body size and flaps its wings 200 times each second, the much larger honeybee flaps its wings 230 times every second.”

“And this was just for hovering,” Altshuler said. “They also have to transfer pollen and nectar and carry large loads, sometimes as much as their body mass, for the rest of the colony.”

The Hive and the Honey Bee, the “Bible” of beekeeping, indicates that a bee’s flight speed averages about 15 miles per hour and they’re capable of flying 20 miles per hour.

If they’re not carrying nectar, pollen, water or propolis (plant resin), they’ll fly much faster!

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Top 30 Flowers For Bees

[Article via / Photo by]

Lemon Blossom Bee

Bees are vital. Without them, pollination of crops doesn’t occur. Bees work tirelessly to provide us with our food, but are struggling in the wild. In recent years it has become apparent that bees, not just the honeybee, are under threat and some have already gone extinct. Find out on this lens which flowers to grow for pollen and nectar that will feed them and help them to increase their numbers. Insects and plants must now be taken care of by gardeners if they are to survive.The private garden is now a better place than the countryside for wildlife, since much agricultural land is now devoid of the diversity of flowers insects need to give them their ‘five a day’. It is now thought by scientists in the field that insects need as much variety in their food as we do to get all the trace minerals and vitamins to keep them healthy, so go on, plant flowers for the bees!

HA= Hardy annual
HHA =Half hardy annual
P = Perennial
HB= Hardy biennial
HS= Hardy shrub

· 1
Cosmos (HHA) is an annual flower easily raised from seed. It’s also one of the very best for the bee. Grow it in groups, making the collection of pollen easier for the bees, who won’t have to fly as far to find their food. Cosmos grows 2-5ft tall, the majority reaching about 2ft. It’s from Mexico, so a half hardy annual. Plant out after all danger of frost has passed, and deadhead to keep them flowering continuously through the summer. These open, flat flowers will delight you as well as giving the bees a feast.
· 2
Aster (HHA) ‘Compostion’ or Michaelmass Daisies. Many modern hybrids have little or no pollen. easy to grow, colorful and late summer to autumn flowering, they provide food late in the season. Important if honeybees are to be well fed to get through the winter months.
· 3
Sunflowers (HA) are a great choice, available in many heights and colours to suit your garden space. Choose yellow or orange over red, which bees don’t like. Varieties exist now for the allergic gardener, containing no pollen. Obviously avoid these when wishing to attract bees.
· 4
Calendulas or marigolds (HA) are great for bees, especially the original single flowered pot marigold. Dead head regularly for a longer flowering period.
· 5
Primulas. (HP) The native primrose, (primula vulgaris), primulas of all kinds, even the drumstick ones are great early food for bees. Cowslips (primula veris) are also good members of this extensive family of perennial plants.
· 6
Rudbekia (HHA) are an extensive group of cone flowers from the aster family. A wide variety of heights, mostly available in yellows and oranges, sure to brighten your border and feed bees. There are also a few hardy perennial ones, of which ‘Goldsturn’ is my personal favourite. All are easy to grow from seed.
· 7
Scabious or cornflowers (HA), another aster family member, are mostly blue flowered and bees adore them. Dead-headed regularly, they’ll flower all summer long.
· 8
Lavender (HHS) There are plenty of lavenders to choose from, all needing plenty of sun and well drained soil, but they’ll reward you with plenty of fragrant flowers for cutting and drying. Just watch them get smothered in bees when they come into flower.
· 9
Bluebells (bulb) Another early food supply. Just a note of caution for UK growers. The native English bluebell in now under threat from the Spanish bluebell, which outcompetes and crosses with it. So please ensure you are planting the native bluebell to ensure you don’t endanger a bluebell woodland near you.
· 10
Hellebores (HP) The Christmas rose! A lovely flower to have in your garden from late winter to early spring, this plant will tolerate some shade and moist conditions, though not wet. When bees emerge from hibernation they need food fast. This one gives them a snack when there’s little else around.
· 11
Clematis (Perennial climber) The majority of clematis will provide pollen, and I’ve watched bees happily moving from flower to flower gathering their crop. Always plant clematis deeper than they were in the container, as this gives more protection against cleamits wilt. These plants are hungry and thirsty, so add good compost to the planting hole. They also like their roots in the cool and heads in the sun, so once planted I place either a thick mulch or a pile of stones or gravel around their roots, keeping them cool and conserving moisture.
· 12
Crocus (bulb) Early flowering, plenty to choose from, and planted in the autumn to flower year after year. These are great value and cheer me up as well as the bees!
· 13
Mint (HP), especially water mint, is loved by bees. It’s great in your cooking, too. Easy to grow, it can be a bit of a thug, so either grow it in a container or prevent its escape around the garden by burying a bucket (with holes in the bottom for drainage) and plant your mint into that.
· 14
Rosemary (HHS) A mediterranean herb, rosemary likes well drained soild and full sun. It flowers around April/May. A great culinary herb, bees will take advantage of the pollen as long as you prune it correctly. This is best done straight after flowering, as most of the flowers will appear on new wood. Don’t prune rosemary back to old, bare wood as these are not likely to regrow. Depending on where you live and soil conditions, rosemary can be short lived, so take some cuttings each year so you can replace the old plant should it dsie or become too leggy.
· 15
Thyme (H to HHS)) There are now quite a few varieties available, tasting slightly different to each other eg lemon thyme. However, I’ve noticed that the wild thyme (thymus serpyllum) attracts a lot of bee visitors and tends to flower more profusely. But they are all worth growing. Give them the same growing conditions as rosemary and lavender.
· 16
Hebe (HH-HS) This extensive group of shrubs have wonderful flowers for bees. Plenty of pollen, all on one flower and plenty of flowers on one shrub. They vary in height, are mosly blue or pink and tolerate most soils. They dislike too much wet, so a well drained soil is best. Water well, though, until established.
· 17
Borage, the bee herb. (HA) Borage is blue flowered, simple to grow and in fact one type grows wild in the UK, though originally from Syria. Easy, prolific and the bees love it.
· 18
Echinacea, the cone flower. (HP) Now available in a variety of colours, all of which will attract bees. Echinacea Tennesseensis will attract birds, bees and butterflies.
· 19
Mignotette. There are HA, HHA and Perennial members of this family. They are sweetly scented and will attract and feed your bees, especially Reseda lutea.
· 20
Thrift, or Sea Pink (HP) is a great plant for a rock garden, trough or wall. Holding its bright pink flowers well above the grass-like foliage, it will cheer your garden and make the bees come back for more! Give it well drained condiitons and lots of sun.
· 21
Sedums are also excellent plants for rock gardens and walls. There are many to choose from, but avoid Sedum Spectabilis Autumn Joy if you’re planting for bees. Biting stonecrop and English stonecrop (sedums acre and anglicum). are natives, and great for bees.
· 22
Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) (HB) are fantastic flowers for bees. An old cottage garden favourite, bees are attracted to the pink or white flowers and we love the perfume! They are members of the dianthus family, as are Pinks and Carnations, all of which are good for the bees.
· 23
Monarda (Bergamot) (HP) This is the herb that flavours Earl Grey tea, but the bees love its flowers for pollen and nectar. Its folk name in the Uk is bee balm. It likes a moist but not wet soil and can cope with a bit of shade. Share it with the bees! Bergamot tea is a herbal treat in itself. Just pour boiling water on the leaves and allow about ten minutes before drinking.
· 24
Cornflower (HA) Easy to grow, cheap and cheerful, cornflowers are another cottage garden favourite. Thier blue flowers act like a bee magnet. Grow in as large a group as you have the space for. This makes it easier for the bees to spot them and saves them flying around more than necessary. It’s easy to save seed from one year to the next, too.
· 25
Poppies (HA-HP) All poppies are attractive to bees, and are laden with pollen in nice open flowers. Very easy to grow, especially the annual kinds, and easy to save seeds to sow next year. Enjoy their delicate petals while your bees enjoy a feast.
· 26
Verbena Bonariensis (HP) a tall, delicate looking perennial with purple/mauve flowers that add a tropical feel to your borders. This is easy to grow from seed and sown early enough will flower in its first year. One not to do without!
· 27
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum) (HHA) Plenty of choice in heights and colours. Have you ever watched a bee enter and leave a snapdragon? Their weight pulls the lower part of the petal down so they can get inside for their food, and you can hear them buzzing while they are in there. Lovely to watch.
· 28
Ageratum (HHA) Easy to grow, with heads of blue flowers and another member of the compositae family, so lots of food on one flower head. This is one of my favorite annuals in the garden. Just don’t plant out until all danger of frost has passed and dead head for more flowers.
· 29
Echinops (globe thistle) (HP) This lovely blue thistle is very ornamental, even when not in flower, standing about 36? tall. Bees and butterflies love the flowers which provide plenty of nectar. Easy to grow from seed and will come back year after year.
· 30
Digitalis (foxglove) (HB) Foxgloves make great food for bees. As they are poisonous, protect children from them and handle wearing gloves. As long as these precautions are taken these are wonderful plants for the garden and the bees. A woodland plant, they’re useful for a shady spot.

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HoneyLove August Newsletter



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Thank you Bel Air-Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council!

Thank you Bel Air-Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council for unanimously supporting URBAN BEEKEEPING in Los Angeles tonight!! That brings our total up to 15 NCs in support!

sign petition

Click here to email a letter of support to LA City Council!!


*If you live/work in Los Angeles districts 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 15 – email us!

Legalize Urban Beekeeping

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NEW FEATURE: HoneyLove Forums!

People always ask us “what’s the first step I need to take to become a beekeeper?” and our response is always the same: “you need to find and join a community.”

Here you go. We are thrilled to announce the launch of the HoneyLove Forum! This feature—free and open to the public—represents a major step forward in educational and community-building efforts. Forums are an incredible way for communities to collaborate, share information and discuss our shared passion.

Forum Screenshot

Just as the individual bee needs a community of bees to survive, the beekeeper needs a community of beekeepers for continued education and support. Whether you are just getting started as a new-bee and need mentorship, or you’re a multi-generation beek still learning new things and refining old techniques, you can benefit from the group’s collective intelligence through discussions, shared observations/experiments, and by simply being around others who share your passion. There are beekeeping associations, clubs, and non-profits like HoneyLove in almost every city in the United States and throughout the world. We always encourage people to join as many of these as they can, as well as availing themselves of all the information the web has to offer. Now, with the HoneyLove Forums, we can offer a place for people to go—regardless of where they live—to dive into the world of beekeeping to learn and connect with likeminded people from all over.

The threads in the forum are organized into seven basic topics to get started. We encourage you to get in there and start a discussion, answer someone’s questions and bond with fellow HoneyLovers! We want your feedback, so please let us know your thoughts on how we can continue to improve the HoneyLove Forum.


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List of neonicotinoids and their trade names


Here you can find a list of neonicotinoids and their trade names (brand name). Please note that not all the brand names are listed and the availability of any chemical and its brands may change through time.

Neonicotinoids List

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READ: Bee Poisoning: Ban Neonicotinoids, Save Bees!

By: Dr. Tibor I. Szabo CM, Tibor P. Szabo, and Daniel C. Szabo BSc [via]


Over the past decade populations of honey bees and other pollinators have been in decline worldwide. This phenomenon, often referred to in media as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is characterized by a rapid loss of a colony’s adult worker bee population, and has been associated with Varroa mites, viruses, environmental stress, and pesticides. Reports of the ‘mysterious disappearance of bees’ abound in scholarly studies and the media, along with disclaimers that no causal effect has been proven.

An article entitled “Existing Scientific Evidence of the Effects of Neonicotinoid Pesticides on Bees“, which appeared in an online European Parliament publication (EAA, 2012), describes a causal effect – bee poisoning by neonicotinoid pesticides. Mounting undeniable scientific evidence has surfaced from around the globe linking neonicotinoid pesticides to mass bee deaths.

In order to protect honey bees, various member states of the European Union have taken regulatory action on the use of specific neonicotinoids. The European Parliament report describes that “neonicotinoids block an intrinsic chemical pathway which transmits nerve impulses to the insect central nervous system” causing irreversible and cumulative damage to the central nervous system and death. Bees exposed to neonicotinoids exhibit convulsions, tremors, and uncoordinated movements typical of exposure to neurotoxins.

Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides that are absorbed into plant tissues. The poisons are highly soluble in water and are applied to a variety of agricultural crops with sprays, seed coatings, soil drenchers and granules, injections into tree trunks, or as an additive to irrigation water. Neonicotinoids migrate through soil and the entire plant all the way to the flowers. This causes toxic, lethal, and chronic exposure to non-target species including earthworms, birds, fish, and pollinators (Mason, et al., 2012). Additional exposure routes also exist depending on the method of application. Neonicotinoids are able to remain in the plant tissues for months to several years.

Even low dose exposure to neonicotinoids can result in serious sub-lethal effects on insects. Residues in nectar and pollen often lead to long-term exposure for pollinators. There is no safe level of exposure, as even tiny amounts of insecticides can have long term negative effects. The European Parliament publication (EAA, 2012) reported sub-lethal effects include a wide range of behavioural disturbances in honey bees including:

  • Disorientation and difficulties in returning back to the hive (homing ability)
  • Reduced foraging efficiency
  • Impaired memory and learning
  • Failure to communicate properly with other bees in the colony
  • Reduction of breeding success
  • Decrease of metabolic efficiency
  • Reduction in disease resistance
  • Necrosis of larva, pupae, and newly emerged bees

A recent scientific publication from Kanazawa University in Japan (Yamada, et. al., 2012) explains that “the high-concentration pesticide (neonicotinoids) seems to work as an acute toxicity and the low- and middle-concentration ones do as a chronic toxicity … In supposing that a pesticide is sprayed and diluted in water of a rice paddy or an orchard and its concentration becomes low, the low-concentration pesticide carried by foraging bees continues to affect a colony for a long time and finally leads to a collapse of a colony or the failure in wintering.”

Representing the main Big Ag neonicotinoid pesticide producers, CropLife Canada, maintains that its lucrative neonicotinoid business should not be held responsible and accountable for any honey bee colony declines and instead insists that Varroa mites are primarily to blame (Hepworth, 2013).

A Health Canada (2013) report titled “Evaluation of Canadian Bee Mortalities that Coincided with Corn Planting in Spring 2012” describes:

“an unusually high number of reports of honey bee mortalities were received from beekeepers in corn growing regions of Ontario and Quebec. The majority of reports were from southern Ontario, involving over 40 beekeepers and 240 different bee yard locations. Additionally, one report was received from Quebec involving eight bee yards. Timing and location of these honey bee mortalities appeared to coincide with planting corn seed treated with insecticides.”

Beekeepers monitored their affected hives throughout the season and reported on the ongoing effects. These included lack of recovery, dwindling colonies, and lack of honey production. Prior to their exposure the bees were healthy.

“Residue analysis was conducted to determine whether bees were exposed to the insecticides used on treated corn seeds. … Clothianidin was detected in approximately 70% of the samples analyzed in Ontario and clothianidin and thiamethoxam were detected in the samples analyzed from Quebec. On a bee yard basis, these residues were detected in approximately 80% of the bee yards where dead bee samples were collected and analysed.”

Personal observations of a bee yard in Southern Ontario, Canada

Our research apiary is located in a semi-agricultural area with large stretches of forests and scattered residential homes. To the East is grazing land and an estimated 100 acres of cultivated land. In 2010 and 2011 this field was planted with corn and in 2012 it was planted with soy. In early May of 2010 we observed several hundred dying and dead bees on the ground in front of some of the colonies. They displayed the typical signs of insecticide poisoning; many were dead while others were on their backs with their legs twitching and proboscis extended. By late July, six colonies displayed dying brood and dwindling population, both signs of colony collapse disorder.

Since 1992 we have kept four hives on scales so that their weight changes could be measured daily in the summer and weekly in the winter. Also since 1992 we have been closely monitoring Varroa mite populations (Szabo 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999, Szabo & Szabo, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003). During the first 18 years (1992-2010), from a total of 72 different colonies in the four scale hives, only one colony had died. Then, during the winter of 2010-2011 all four scale colonies died. From the other 51 colonies in the same bee yard 31 (61%) died. In the winter of 2011-2012, 10 (33%) of the 30 colonies and two of the four scale colonies died. In early May of 2012 we found hundreds of dead bees in front of four hives. In order to replace the losses 11 new colonies were made up. By October 2012, only 19 of 31 colonies had survived and were prepared for wintering. The collapse of colonies continues to the present.

In early May 2012, old partly decomposed dead bee samples were collected from the front entrances of four colonies and blooming dandelion flowers were collected from the bee yard and ditch near a treated soybean field that had been planted with treated corn in 2010 and 2011. Neonicotinoids in these samples were not detected at the reporting limit of 0.005 ppm for Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam and 0.001 ppm for Clothianidin. Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) personnel did not collect fresh samples from dying colonies or soil and water samples from the field where the crops had been planted.

In early May 2013 another apiary showed extreme colony loss immediately after a neighbouring field had been planted with treated soybean. Exposed treated seed was visible (Figure 1) on the soil surface. Near the edges of the field we found treated seed coats (Figure 2). The bees in the apiary displayed symptoms consistent with neonicotinoid exposure. Out of 50 colonies, 49 immediately showed signs of acute poisoning and a drastic drop in adult bee populations. Samples of the bees were again taken by PMRA personnel. We are still waiting for the test results from these samples.

Symptoms of the dying colonies

In 2010 it was first noticed that previously solid brood patterns became irregular and some of the larvae were twisted and dead. In the following months more and more larvae became affected (Figure 3) and the adult bee population shrank to a few hundred per colony. Despite this condition the queen continued to lay eggs (Figure 4) until the entire bee population gradually disappeared. Because neonicotinoid pesticides remain in contaminated pollen and nectar which are fed to the brood, many young larvae cannot develop and mature. As older bees succumb to the chronic poisoning and die there are no replacements. The larvae that do mature emerge into young adult bees that can be found dying and twitching at the hive entrance. Young bees found in this state at the front of hives are a sign that the colony has been compromised by neonicotinoids.

Video 1. Adult bee dying and twitching at hive entrance after soy planting.

The need for honey bees to forage for water, pollen, and nectar

Water is essential for honey bee colonies. Bees fly out from hives even in cold weather to collect water from leaves, soil and wherever they can find it. According to Hunt and Krupke (2012) “each corn seed theoretically has enough pesticide to kill well over 100,000 bees.” Rain water leaches pesticides into the soil where it can remain active for up to three years and honey bees collect water from wet soil, puddles and ditches. Bees consume the water and if the exposure does not cause acute death, the bees bring the water home to poison their colonies resulting in chronic poisoning. Annual applications of neonicotinoids compound the problem. Figure 5 shows water standing in a treated corn field that bees use for water foraging.

In early spring bees are desperate to collect pollen. They try to collect dust from bird feeders, sawdust, and white powder from poplar tree trunks. A few exposed corn seeds coated in toxic neonicotinoid dust are sufficient to poison entire apiaries as honey bees foraging for pollen carry it back to the colony.

Since neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic and appear in all parts of a plant including roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and fruit, honey bees become exposed while gathering nectar, pollen, and water.

Declining numbers of bumble bees and solitary bees

A 25m × 10m area of grape hyacinth was planted to provide a source of pollen and nectar in early spring and in another area native star thistle was allowed to grow and bloom. Star thistle flowers all summer and grape hyacinth flowers for a month at end of April and in early May. On a sunny day in 2009, 30 foraging bumblebee queens were counted in 10 minutes on the grape hyacinth and in 2012 and 2013 none appeared. The last time the large solitary Megachile was observed visiting the star thistle was in 2008 (Figure 6). The sudden death of foraging bees, the subsequent slow decline and disappearance of colony populations and increase in winter losses coincided with the planting of treated corn 150 m from the bee yard.

A call to action

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (2010) recommends the following label warnings for Clothianidin treated seeds:

“This chemical has properties and characteristics associated with chemicals detected in ground water. The use of this chemical in areas where soils are permeable, particularly where the water table is shallow, may result in ground water contamination.

This compound is toxic to birds and mammals. Treated clothianidin seeds exposed on soil surface may be hazardous to birds and mammals. Cover or collect clothianidin seeds spilled during loading.

This compound is toxic to honey bees. The persistence of residues and potential residual toxicity of Clothianidin in nectar and pollen suggests the possibility of chronic toxic risk to honey bee larvae and the eventual instability of the hive.”

Imidacloprid producer EastChem states that the pesticide “should be banned from using near beekeeping, sericulture areas and water sources.”

Neonicotinoid pesticides should not be used as a pest control measure. Integrated Pest Management practices must be promoted. It should be mandatory for seed companies to make untreated seeds available to farmers.

Neonicotinoids kill beneficial organisms from pollinators to earthworms to predatory insects. Neonicotinoids should be avoided entirely. Spring is a peak water foraging time for honey bees that coincides with seeding time. Spring runoff mixing with neonicotinoid tainted seeds has catastrophic effects on bee populations. The European Commission’s decision to ban Imidacloprid, Thiamethoxam and Clothianidin should be followed as a first step to protecting our pollinators and ecosystems from this class of chemicals.

Beekeepers cannot continue to absorb the heavy financial loses of their honey bee colonies because of neonicotinoid poisonings and many will be forced out of business. This will affect not only the products of bees such as honey, pollen, propolis and wax, but also fruit, nut, vegetables, oilseeds, etc that make up the pollinator’s $2 billion annual contribution to Canada’s economy (Canadian Honey Council).

List of figures

Figure 1. Bright blue treated soybean seeds exposed on the soil surface after planting. Within 2 days of the field being planted, 98% of colonies in an adjacent beeyard died.

Bright blue treated soybean seeds exposed on the soil surface after planting. Within 2 days of the field being planted, 98% of colonies in an adjacent bee yard died.

Figure 2. Insecticide treated soybean coatings observed near the edge of a field. These can be blown by the wind to poison areas beyond the field.

Insecticide treated soybean coatings observed near the edge of a field. These can be blown by the wind to poison areas beyond the field.

Figure 3. The brood pattern of a honeybee colony displaying the symptoms of low concentration (sub-lethal) neonicotinoid pesticide poisoning, consistent with colony collapse disorder (CCD).

The brood pattern of a honeybee colony displaying the symptoms of low concentration (sub-lethal) neonicotinoid pesticide poisoning, referred to as colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Figure 4. Days before the collapse of the honey bee colony, the queen was still laying eggs, however the brood failed to develop.

Days before the collapse of the honey bee colony, the queen was still laying eggs.

Figure 5. Water standing in treated corn field is consumed and taken back to the hive by foraging bees.

Water standing in treated corn field is consumed and taken back to the hive by foraging bees.

Figure 6. The large solitary leaf cutter bee (Megachile spp.) has not been seen foraging on star thistle since 2008.

The large solitary leaf cutter bee (Megachile spp.) has not been seen foraging on star thistle since 2008.


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