NeoNics Disrupt Bee Flight – Nobody Wants A Drunk Bee


Common pesticide damages honey bee’s ability to fly
April 26, 2017, University of California – San Diego

Biologists at the University of California San Diego have demonstrated for the first time that a widely used pesticide can significantly impair the ability of otherwise healthy honey bees to fly, raising concerns about how pesticides affect their capacity to pollinate and the long-term effects on the health of honey bee colonies.

Previous research has shown that foraging honey bees that ingested neonicotinoid pesticides, crop insecticides that are commonly used in agriculture, were less likely to return to their home nest, leading to a decrease in foragers.

A study published April 26 in Scientific Reports by UC San Diego postdoctoral researcher Simone Tosi, Biology Professor James Nieh, along with Associate Professor Giovanni Burgio of the University of Bologna, Italy, describes in detail how the neonicotinoid pesticide thiamethoxam damages honey bees. Thiamethoxam is used in crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton. To test the hypothesis that the pesticide impairs flight ability, the researchers designed and constructed a flight mill (a bee flight-testing instrument) from scratch. This allowed them to fly bees under consistent and controlled conditions.

Months of testing and data acquisition revealed that typical levels of neonicotinoid exposure, which bees could experience when foraging on agricultural crops—but below lethal levels—resulted in substantial damage to the honey bee’s ability to fly.

“Our results provide the first demonstration that field-realistic exposure to this pesticide alone, in otherwise healthy colonies, can alter the ability of bees to fly, specifically impairing flight distance, duration and velocity” said Tosi. “Honey bee survival depends on its ability to fly, because that’s the only way they can collect food. Their flight ability is also crucial to guarantee crop and wild plant pollination.”

Long-term exposure to the pesticide over one to two days reduced the ability of bees to fly. Short-term exposure briefly increased their activity levels. Bees flew farther, but based upon other studies, more erratically.

“Bees that fly more erratically for greater distances may decrease their probability of returning home,” said Nieh, a professor in UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences.

This pesticide does not normally kill bees immediately. It has a more subtle effect, said Nieh.

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

Then the related article that posits taking too much honey and swapping in High Fructose Corn Syrup is making it worse:

( —A team of entomologists from the University of Illinois has found a possible link between the practice of feeding commercial honeybees high-fructose corn syrup and the collapse of honeybee colonies around the world. The team outlines their research and findings in a paper they’ve had published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Since approximately 2006, groups that manage commercial honeybee colonies have been reporting what has become known as colony collapse disorder—whole colonies of bees simply died, of no apparent cause. As time has passed, the disorder has been reported at sites all across the world, even as scientists have been racing to find the cause, and a possible cure. To date, most evidence has implicated pesticides used to kill other insects such as mites. In this new effort, the researchers have found evidence to suggest the real culprit might be high-fructose corn syrup, which beekeepers have been feeding bees as their natural staple, honey, has been taken away from them.

Commercial honeybee enterprises began feeding bees high-fructose corn syrup back in the 70’s after research was conducted that indicated that doing so was safe. Since that time, new pesticides have been developed and put into use and over time it appears the bees’ immunity response to such compounds may have become compromised.

The researchers aren’t suggesting that high-fructose corn syrup is itself toxic to bees, instead, they say their findings indicate that by eating the replacement food instead of honey, the bees are not being exposed to other chemicals that help the bees fight off toxins, such as those found in pesticides.

Specifically, they found that when bees are exposed to the enzyme p-coumaric, their immune system appears stronger—it turns on detoxification genes.
P-coumaric is found in pollen walls, not nectar, and makes its way into honey inadvertently via sticking to the legs of bees as they visit flowers. Similarly, the team discovered other compounds found in poplar sap that appear to do much the same thing. It all together adds up to a diet that helps bees fight off toxins, the researchers report. Taking away the honey to sell it, and feeding the bees high-fructose corn syrup instead, they claim, compromises their immune systems, making them more vulnerable to the toxins that are meant to kill other bugs.

So since these two interact with each other, laboratory testing showing neo-nics are not harmful enough to be the problem while NOT feeding them the way real working hives are fed will hide the doubled problem. Similarly, testing HFC feeding abasent neo-nics in the diet will have a lesser problem shown.

While real hives in the real world worked with HFC and exposed to neo-nics will have bees with poor immunity who can’t fly back to the hive well at all.

The good news is that it looks like folks are finally getting insight into the multifactor causality.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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13 Responses to NeoNics Disrupt Bee Flight – Nobody Wants A Drunk Bee

  1. Simon Derricutt says:

    If you feed kids just corn-syrup, then they won’t get the vitamins and minerals they needs to grow, and though they may get fat from eating more of it in order to try to get more nutrients, they’ll not do well. It seems that feeding bees “empty calories” also affects their health. Shouldn’t really be that surprising, and for me it’s more surprising that bees actually normally survive when fed this way. I’d thought that the standard way was to not remove all the honey from the hive, but to leave a percentage of it for the bees to eat as well as adding in some sugar-syrup. Might be worth trying something like Molasses (residue from purifying cane sugar instead of the corn-syrup, but alternatives need to be found even if it means adding relevant nutrients to a cheap corn syrup.

    This year I’m seeing more birds and bees around than the last few years. No kestrels yet hovering around, though.

  2. philjourdan says:

    Drunk bees and drunk bears. What next? Drunk armadillos?

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    I think “next” is me ;-) it’s time to prep for the 4th July Party….

    Wonder if a gator can get drunk…. Would be an interesting experiment, but how to deliver the goods?… Hmmm…. Brandy soaked chicken? (That doesn’t sound 1/2 bad for something to grill… The chicken, not the gator…. wait, the gator sounds pretty good too… Grilled Drunken Gator ;-)

    Per the bees:

    I’m just glad folks are finally starting to gather actual data showing cause, even if at sub-lethal levels. Now we can pick some areas and hives and try modifying feeding and no-neonics and see how it goes. Is that enough or only a partial answer?

  4. H.R. says:

    Per the bees: A virus has also been indicted in bee colony collapse.

    Like humans, bees can die for number of reasons: car wrecks, though the car rarely suffers damage; lack of food due to too much rain or drought during the food gathering season; plague, such as that virus; environmental toxins, which are ubiquitous in the burbs as more folks than ever try to maintain that perfect lawn.

    I also wonder if GMO crops, which are created with disease and insect resistance in mind, might have some effect. The changes that help the crops may harm the bees. I dunno.

  5. cdquarles says:

    @ H. R.
    Why do you think plants make “toxins” in the first place (along with every other form of life on this rock)? The ‘natural’ world is full of toxins. That said, dose and route make the medicine and the poison. People should remember that bee colonies are actually extended individuals. The workers are parthenogenetically cloned sisters of the queen, made sexually inactive by ‘toxins’ the queen excretes.

  6. John F. Hultquist says:

    As others have said, bees may need a little help – just like me.

    I do trail work in the WA Cascades. Knowing I won’t be eating well but likely drinking more, I take a multivitamin pill plus eat a couple of ounces of salty potato chips.
    The pills do NOT have Na. The potatoes do have Potassium.

  7. Pingback: NeoNics Disrupt Bee Flight – Nobody Wants A Drunk Bee – HiFast News Feed

  8. H.R. says:

    @cdquarles re toxins: I wasn’t clear enough; I was wondering about toxins other than the usual toxins for which bees have a defense. Introduced GMO toxins may be analogous to smallpox being introduced by the newcomers in the 1500s to the New World Welcoming Committees,* who had no defense against it.

    I just think there is more than one factor causing the bee colony collapses.

    *How’s that for political correctness?😜

  9. cdquarles says:

    Well, H. R., how can you introduce a toxin that’s already there? :P GMO … genetically modified organisms … which is … what evolution does, if anything. These “toxins” are already there, just as antimicrobial resistance was already there. The difference is the dose, not the chemical. Of course there are defenses. The bees that can’t take these doses will be replaced by those that can take it.

    WRT smallpox, recall that the microbial exchange worked both ways. Syphilis went to Eurasia, smallpox to the Americas. Here, we’re talking about whole organisms, not just their excreta.

  10. gareth says:

    No specific knowledge of this paper, however do note that the recent EU ban on neonics was based on fraudulent science, got up by green activists (and “smoking gun” evidence later found to confirm this).

    Everyone loves furry little bumble bees, and hates big business that callously kills them. Nobody much does harm/benefit analysis when rushing to an opinion, or legislation.

    Not saying this particular finding is suspect – just it needs checking carefully, because of the subject and the precedents ;-)

  11. Power Grab says:

    Dr. Stephanie Seneff has written quite a bit about how glyphosate messes with gut flora.

    Most corn is Roundup-ready, meaning they use glyphosate on it.

    High fructose corn syrup is made by processing corn starch with fungal enzymes.

    Crops more easily harbor fungal organisms when glyphosate (Roundup) has been used on it.

    Honey normally is anti-fungal.

    I haven’t looked for research that examines the microbiome of bees, and how removing (anti-fungal) honey from their diet and replacing it with HFCS can mess with it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the same problem (gut dysbiosis) that Dr. Seneff says is associated with autism, might also be associated with bees having trouble flying.

    When I first heard about the bats dying off from that “white nose” malady, my first thought was that it was a fungal problem. In the ensuing years, I understand that researchers have confirmed that.

  12. philjourdan says:

    One species is a curiosity, 2 is a coincidence. 3? I see a conspiracy!

    The animals are adopting our ways! First the bees, then the bears, now the birds! :-)

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