The planet’s bees have been mysteriously vanishing, and scientists have struggled to pinpoint exactly why. Though habitat loss and pesticides/insecticides have been presumed to be the primary causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the precise details regarding CCD were not clear until recent research conducted at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).
These UCSD studies have pinpointed a root of the cause of CCD: neonicotinoids, which are insecticides that are so commonly used they can be found in practically every crop in the United States. Widespread crops like apples, potatoes, cotton, corn, and soy are all grown with the use of neonicotinoids, meaning exposure to the chemicals is practically unavoidable. According to the report, “Neonicotinoids are environmentally persistent and systemic: they can be found in the nectar, pollen, and guttation droplets that bees collect. Moreover, exposure to even low concentrations of neonicotinoids can harm bee health via synergistic interactions between multiple stressors.”
This expansive insecticide usage is literally driving bees mad and causing them to become addicted to the substance.
The conducted research analyzed the movement of bees after being exposed to neonicotinoids, and the results were alarming. The control group of bees flew an average of 2 kilometers at a speed of 5.4 kilometers/hour for a length of 23 minutes. In comparison, the bees exposed to field-standard dosages of the insecticide flew 78 percent longer and 72 percent farther. After this extreme spike of energy, the exposed bees were seen disoriented or “lost,” and their energy was depleted. This can explain why bees are not returning to their hives; their motor abilities and orientation skills are damaged by the chemicals and the bees cannot find their way back home.
“Based upon our results, we likewise predict that bees foraging on neonicotinoid-treated fields for just one or two days will then fly more slowly and in a reduced area,” states the report. “This behavioral alteration should reduce the pollination service provided to plants, nectar and pollen collection for the colony, and the nutritional biodiversity of collected pollen for the colony.” Considering the fact that bees help to pollinate 30 percent of the world’s food crops and 90 percent of wild plants – a reduction in pollination can mean serious impacts for our food supply.
Additionally, the research showed that bees preferred ingesting water containing these insecticides over regular water. This desire for the substance combined with the “rush and crash” they experience is comparable to patterns exhibited by humans with stimulant abuse issues. So basically, once bees are hooked, they will habitually return to these fields that are causing them to reduce their pollination.
Now, it is one thing to consider that this is how these harmful chemicals are impacting bees … but seeing how neonicotinoids are environmentally persistent, it means we are being exposed to them as well. Previous studies have found residue of these insecticides on food and even traced them to many water sources. We may be larger than honey bees, naturally, but toxins have a way of bioaccumulating in fat tissue and getting stored within our bodies. If these insecticides are damaging bees in such a drastic way, just imagine what they could be doing to us?
A 2016 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, that aimed to show the connection between neonicotinoid exposure and human health looked at different eight studies. In these cases, some studies reported fatalities related to exposure, four general population studies reported associations between chronic neonic exposure and adverse developmental or neurological outcomes, including things such as tetralogy of Fallot, a combination of four heart defects, autism spectrum disorder, memory loss, and finger tremors – there were also some studies that showed no adverse effects. Overall, however, they concluded that more research would need to be done in order to tell if these chemicals can be associated with negative health outcomes.
The bottom line is, we may not know exactly how these chemicals are impacting us, but we know that they are harming bees … which negatively impacts our food supply. If we know this group of insecticides is problematic why would we continue to use them – especially considering many European nations have taken action to ban them.
If you are interested in learning more, you can check out the UCSD research report here. If you would like to help the bee populations make a comeback, consider planting a pollinator garden of your own. Here are some tips and ideas on what to plant to help get you started. Additionally, you can do your best to avoid these insecticides and help bees by choosing to buy organic produce as much as possible. Most importantly, share this article with others and spread the word!
Image Source: FzFoto/Flickr