Colony Collapse Disorder: Are Potent Pesticides Killing Honeybees?

With a third of honeybee colonies disappearing due to “colony collapse disorder,” it’s time to move into high gear to find a solution.

  • colony collapse disorder - bee pollination
    Two common pesticides have been linked to colony collapse disorder symptoms in honeybees.

  • colony collapse disorder - bee pollination

Colony collapse disorder has wreaked havoc on U.S. beekeeping businesses (and the agriculture industry) since its devastating arrival in 2006. The veiled killer entered hives across Japan for the first time earlier this year, affecting 25 percent of the national beekeeping association members. Now the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for withholding details about the impact of neonicotinoids — a class of widely used pesticides — on honeybees and other pollinators.

Nasty Neonicotinoid Pesticides

The EPA identifies two specific neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, and clothianidin, as highly toxic to bees. Both chemicals cause symptoms in bees such as memory loss, navigation disruption, paralysis, and death.

Both chemicals have been linked in dramatic honeybee deaths and subsequent suspensions of their use in France and Germany. Several European countries have already suspended them. Last year Slovenia and Italy also suspended their use for what they consider a significant risk to honeybee populations.

While Bayer CropScience, the primary producer of both pesticides, maintains honeybee deaths reported in Europe were caused by unusual application errors, they don’t dispute the proven toxicity of their products. Instead, they maintain bees do not encounter enough of an exposure to cause harm. Now even that assertion is under the microscope.

A report by Maryann Frazier, senior extension associate at Pennsylvania State University, points to a new study from Italy suggests honeybees may be ingesting neonicotinoids at levels 1,000 times higher than that in pollen or nectar via water droplets expressed from the leaves of corn grown from the pesticide-coated seed. This “guttation water” is a common source of liquid for forager bees. The concentrations in the droplets were high enough to kill bees within five minutes of consumption.

Frazier also highlights a study from North Carolina University that found the neonicotinoid Terraguard and the fungicide Procure had synergistic affects when combined, increasing the danger of the neonicotinoid to honeybees to over 1,000 times its original toxicity. The researchers at Penn State are concerned that even sub-lethal doses of these pesticides, while not killing the bees, are impairing their behavior and suppressing their immune systems.

6/23/2013 7:23:53 PM

Excuse me but I am a bit skeptical about colony collapse because of whow the dire warnings aren't the proper results. If there is such a threat something akin to the Manhattan Project would be underway.

Consider this: in the "wild" bees move on from time to time to new living quarters. In the commercialized colonies they stay in the same place. Are the hives simply unhygenic after repeated use? Could the beekeepers be capitalizing on losses and driving up their own investment? 

These things need to be studied along side all the other fine work being done.

Bob Johnson
1/28/2011 1:27:43 PM

What i see here is a distortion of the facts. true, neonictinoids do cause problems, however what you fail to mention, nor consider is the role of Viral infections, bacterial infections, poor pollen quality (from GMO's) and other environmental factors play in the mix. You seem to "just blame the easiest one". Even Germanys interior minister pointed to gross misapplications as a cause of the die offs. What about the gross misapplication of materials here, on a daily basis by homeowners? Now who is the largest applicator of neonictinoids? Homeowners! when you can buy pesticides that are used my professional applicators and put it into the hands of homeowners you are asking for trouble. Those companies that supply these materials to homeowners have been contacted by the manufacturers to stop, only to be told they are in their legal right. It is the responsible public that needs to get involved to have the laws changed to stop this practice of letting homeowners get the materials that are highly toxic to bees. check out "" and see what I mean. Now, I'm not defending Bayer, but there are other problems in addition to the materials that need addressing. Those include "farmed" bees for pollination, (nothing like passing a pathogen load to unaffected colonies) tetracycline resistant Nosema. There are other "structural pests" that neonictinoids help control that aren't part of the problem matrix.

Kevin Hansen_3
1/22/2010 5:22:09 PM

We just released a new documentary film called Nicotine Bees, on the serious worldwide, simultaneous die-offs of the honeybee, with the help of the Sierra Club. We filmed across the US, in Germany, in Canada and in India. Three factors seem to implicate neonicotinoids as the most important factor in the bee die-offs: 1) Worldwide extent of the problem; 2) Simultaneous worldwide occurrences of the massive die-offs, beginning in about an 18-month range; 3) Strange and widely-reported bee behaviors; Most other explanations do not seem to pass this 3-part test; We think the situation is grave, worsening, and has very direct explanations - contrary to earlier reports. For example: A) An Italian ban on some nicotine pesticides seems to have immediately stopped CCD phenomena; B) The State of California with EPA has asked for a re-evaluation of 282 pesticides in connections with honeybee die-offs - one of the important reasons was the persistence in soil not evaluated prior to registration. Kevin Hansen, LEED AP, PG Director, Nicotine Bees the movie

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