Pesticides Are Creating Smaller Worker Bees: Study

Over the last decade, the decline in the number of bees has become an undeniable fact. It is leading many to consider the real possibility of a global food crisis as bee colonies continue to collapse.

What remains in question is exactly what is the culprit. In reality, there may be more than one reason, but an increasing number of studies are pointing to the use of pesticides as the main smoking gun. 

Despite a massive dose of propaganda from the usual suspects in the pro-pesticide market, Europe has taken action to impose a two-year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides – those deriving from chemicals closely related to nicotine, which attacks the nervous system of pests (and bees and birds).

The Independent reported:

More than 30 separate scientific studies have found a link between the neonicotinoids, which attack insects’ nerve systems, and falling bee numbers.

UK, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Austria and Portugal voted against the ban. Some countries abstained, and Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, France, Cyprus, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden voted for a pesticide ban. 

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Meanwhile, in America, Oregon witnessed a mass bee die-off that prompted the Oregon Department of Agriculture to issue a temporary ban on neonicotinoids. 

Now a new study looks at a different class of pesticides called pyrethroid pesticides. Findings show that the widespread use of this pesticide is causing worker bees to hatch at a smaller size and demonstrate ongoing retarded growth:

The research, published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology, reveals that prolonged exposure to a pyrethroid pesticide, which is used on flowering crops to prevent insect damage, reduces the size of individual bees produced by a colony.

While generally not killing them outright, the researchers explain the severe impact that smaller worker bees have on the overall health of the colony:

We already know that larger bumblebees are more effective at foraging. Our result, revealing that this pesticide causes bees to hatch out at a smaller size, is of concern as the size of workers produced in the field is likely to be a key component of colony success, with smaller bees being less efficient at collecting nectar and pollen from flowers,” says researcher Gemma Baron from Royal Holloway.

This study was conducted as a contribution to the Bee Health Conference that will take place January 22-24 in London, England. It was the first study of its kind to specifically look at pyrethroid pesticides over the full lifecycle of bumblebees.

There is growing concern that Europe’s ban on neonicotinoid pesticides will promote the use of other types of pesticides such as pyrethroid as an attempt to end-run the ban. Fortunately, concerned scientists and environmentalists are taking a much closer look across the entire pesticide spectrum.

Dr Nigel Raine, who is an Invited Speaker at this week’s bee conference, said: “Our work provides a significant step forward in understanding the detrimental impact of pesticides other than neonicotinoids on wild bees. Further studies using colonies placed in the field are essential to understand the full impacts, and conducting such studies needs to be a priority for scientists and governments.

The following articles cover some of the feeble (and outlandish) attempts made by the pesticide industry to convince us that the problem is not as bad as we might think, and that their solutions are a sound approach to ensuring the health of bees . . . and global food production.

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