Neonicotinoid Pesticides Prevent Bees From Flying, Study Finds

neonicotinoid pesticides

A new study from the University of California San Diego has shown that neonicotinoid pesticides impede bees’ ability to fly. This is the first study to prove that field-realistic exposure to these common pesticides has such a detrimental effect on the pollinators.

The new study, which was published in Scientific Reports in late April, builds upon previous research, published in 2012 in Nature, that showed that neonicotinoid pesticides interfered with the navigational abilities of bees.

“Honey bee survival depends on its ability to fly, because that’s the only way they can collect food,” says Simone Tosi, a postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the study.

The study shows that both acute and chronic exposure to the neonicotinoid pesticide thiamethoxam alter the distance, duration, and velocity of the honey bee flights. Researchers noted an “excitatory short-term effect and a depressive longer-term effect” of the pesticide: honey bees that had succumbed to long-term exposure to thiamethoxam showed a decreased flying ability, whereas bees exposed to the pesticides over a shorter period of time flew longer distances but more erratically.

“(Researchers) opine that if these exposed bees are flying greater distances while disoriented from pesticide exposure, it may actually reduce their ability to fly home,” writes Beyond Pesticides of the findings. Researchers believe that the chemically induced changes in the natural behavior of the honey bees significantly reduce not only their effectiveness as pollinators but also the size and health of honey bee hives themselves.

“The honey bee is a highly social organism, so the behavior of thousands of bees are essential for the survival of the colony,” said co-author and biology professor James Nieh. “We’ve shown that a sub-lethal dose may lead to a lethal effect on the entire colony.”

Thiamethoxam is a common neonicotinoid pesticide, used in the United States on crops such as corn, soy, and cotton.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco