Reason to Bee Hopeful?

There is an article in the most recent Science section of the New York Times on efforts to fight the worrisome decline of bees. The focus is on increasing the availability of plants in agricultural areas that provide forage for pollinators.

Bumble Bee, Wild Bergamot
Bee foraging on Wild Bergamot

In California, researchers are testing native plants for use in hedgerows or among crops. In the Upper Midwest, there is a modestly funded federal project aimed at promoting alfalfa and other cover crops, as well as leaving more land fallow along fence rows.

The decline of bees is not entirely understood, but it seems that neonicotinoid insecticides are a big part of it. Parasites and disease may also play a role. So why is the focus on expanding food sources for bees? According to Jeffrey Pettis, lead bee researcher at the Agricultural Research Service, better fed bees will be more able to resist threats in the environment: “If they have a good nutritional foundation, they can survive some of the things they are faced with.”

This may be true, but I have to wonder if restricting or banning the use of neonicotinoid pesticides would be more effective. According to a report that reviews all the studies done on this subject, these pesticides are highly toxic to bees and persistent in plants and the environment. There is no direct evidence linking neonicotinoids to Colony Collapse Disorder among bees, but there is some evidence that they make bees more vulnerable to parasites and disease.

Bumblebee on knautia
Bumblebee on knautia


Recommended manufacturer application rates for neonicotinoid products sold to homeowners are up to 120 times the approved rates for agriculture – and there is frequently no warning of the risk to bees.

Pesticides for the home garden that include neonicotinoids are marketed under a variety of trademarks, including:

  • Bayer Advanced 3-in-1 Insect, Disease, & Mite Control
  • Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Insect Control
  • Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed
  • Bayer Advanced Fruit, Citrus & Vegetable Insect Control
  • Bayer Advanced All-in-One Rose & Flower Care concentrate
  • DIY Tree Care Products Multi-Insect Killer
  • Ferti-lome 2-N-1 Systemic
  • Hi-Yield Systemic Insect Spray
  • Hunter
  • Knockout Ready-To-Use Grub Killer
  • Lesco Bandit
  • Marathon
  • Merit
  • Monterey Once a Year Insect Control II
  • Ortho Bug B Gon Year-Long Tree & Shrub Insect Control
  • Ortho MAX Tree & Shrub Insect Control
  • Surrender Brand GrubZ Out
  • Bayer All-In-One Rose and Flower Care Granules
  • Green Light Grub Control with Arena
  • Flagship
  • Maxide Dual Action Insect Killer
  • Meridien
  • Ortho Flower, Fruit, and Vegetable Insect Killer
  • Ortho Rose and Flower Insect Killer
  • Green Light Insect Control with Safari 2G
  • Safari
  • Transect
  • Zylem 20SG Turf Insecticide

The issue comes down to money, as it so often does. As with other environmental issues, immediate economic benefit tends to trump long-term risk, even if the risks are potentially catastrophic. Fortunately, there are some who are working to overcome such short-sighted thinking.

Bumblebee on New England Aster
Bumblebee on New England Aster

For instance, some farmers are taking a longer view. The NYT article profiles a California vineyard that plants hedgerows and bee-friendly plants among the vines. The owner expects these techniques to pay for themselves eventually, even if they haven’t yet.

Do you think use of neonicotinoids and other insecticides should be more restricted than it is now?

44 Comments on “Reason to Bee Hopeful?”

  1. Great treatment of this topic–one of the best I’ve seen. Most of the evidence seems to be pointing in the direction that neonics are a contributing factor in colony collapse disorder. Planting lots of organic, native plants (as you have done, Jason) can help, though. Here’s a TED presentation that I think you’ll like: Great post!

  2. I absolutely do think there needs to be something done about the distribution of these chemicals. In the long run what will we be looking at and as you stated above we need to start looking at the long view. It makes me happy that there are many working to help the bees and that people like you are educating others! Have a great weekend! Nicole

  3. I wonder if anyone is looking at effects on other, less economically valuable insects and seeing how they’re doing in the face of all these stresses. It would really scare me if honeybees were just the tip of the iceberg.
    I think there was a NOVA broadcast on this too, strange that no one can really find a smoking gun for this.

  4. You’re right – sadly it comes down to money in the end. You only need to llok at the companies who produce these chemicals and look who’s on their executive boards… Fortunately SOME restrictions came into force in the EU last year, but there are still far too many exceptions. Public awareness is good though, and fewer people use chemicals at home than in the past. I’ll take a look at your link Jason. Thanks!

  5. Definitely this is about money, A two year experimental ban came into force in the EU in December 2013 after extensive lobbying and public objections to neonicotinoids, a temporary relief for Bees. Growing native flowers from organic untreated seed is helping, but how do you stop bees from choosing a chemically treated flower, when planted alongside? Another worry is the increased import of farmed bees to use seasonally as pollinators in poly tunnels which are then destroyed.

  6. restrictions are greater in Europe, it is sadly usually the US that won’t sign up to bans because often american companies produce these products and their lobbies are very strong. That said I heard a great programme on BBC radio where a lot of actual bee keepers said that lack of habitat was the major issue not these chemicals. Idon’t use anything in my garden and can report that the garden is alive with the buzzing of all kinds of bees.

  7. I think everyone has read Silent Spring by now. These poisons don’t even effectively do the job they pretend to address.

    Another common source of neonicotinoid poison is in the flea meds people use for domestic cats and dogs.

    Planting native plants is always a good idea but it doesn’t address the source of the problem: it is a bit like offering a person bleeding out in the ER a band-aid with a picture of a smiley face.

  8. An excellent post on this very important and disturbing subject. Gardeners here have been using Bayer’s Provado to kill lily beetle for several years. It is very effective but I have always thought that if it kills lily beetles it can’t be doing bees much good. The main ingredient of Provado is Thiacloprid which is part of the Neonicotinoid family. A daily patrol of Fritillaries and Lilies and removing them by hand, (squashing them) is the best and safest method of control. Revolting though.

  9. Great post! I will be getting my bees in a couple of weeks and would love to reblog this with your permission. We have to keep spreading the word about spraying for every single bug we see (and I was guilty of this years ago). The more we learn about bees (and other beneficial bugs), the better we can protect them.

  10. What is bad for bees is probably bad for all living creatures, including humans. In recent years, the bee population in my yard has dwindled, to the point I have considered keeping bees myself. This year I hope to attract more with a planting of bee’s friend. Hope it works.

  11. Excellent post, and great that you are raising awareness for the bees and other pollinators. I try not to use anything in the garden on the basis that practically all insecticides will harm the environment and it’s

  12. Thanks for posting this. I read the article in the New York Times and would like to be hopeful that it draws more attention to this facet of the crisis we’re in. I suspect what’s happening with honeybees is related to the Monarch Butterflies and other less conspicuous species and I am trying to plant whatever I can to help them out. I refused even the most “harmless” chemicals to clear my front yard when I had it planted with native flora last summer. Maybe somewhere in the reverberations of good intentions across the universe, we will be heard…?

  13. Definitely, they should be banned.
    They kill many beneficial insects and they linger in the environment and do who knows what to humans. I shudder when I see insecticides with a nuke-em-all approach. People need to learn that insects are an important part of the ecosystem. Only a few bugs are bad, and there are environmentally friendly ways to control them. The key is education.

  14. There has been action over here, as has been said above. I stopped using any sort of chemicals in the garden 2 years ago this spring having decided to do my little bit but that is a mere fraction of what needs doing. It’s always comes down to money and until we as a race get our heads around it, there can only continuing decline.
    Your comment re trucked bees has alarmed me. I had no idea this sort of thing goes on! I noticed last year that the farm near me how has bee hives on the property and they too are leaving leaving strips around the edges of the fields to nature. Education is the only way to go!

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