Neonictinoids and Bees

October was the quarterly meeting for the PPBA. There were some competitions, honey, comb, and frames, specifically. There was also information on winterizing, as we were getting to that time. By the bye, if your hive isn’t up to winter weight, you’re late to feed them up and get that fixed for Colorado Springs. The most interesting part for me, though, was the information brought back from the WAS meeting several folks attended in Boulder. Specifically, neonictanoids.

Everyone, at this point, has heard of CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder, and how very hard it has been to pin down the source of these randomly dead or missing colonies of bees. It looks like the signs are pointing more and more strongly to the insecticides known as neonictanoids.

Neonictanoids are what’s known as a systemic pesticide. That means that it is taken up by the roots and becomes part of the whole system known as a plant. What this means for the bees is that it is in the nectar and pollen that they collect and bring back to the larvae and the dew that plants sweat out each morning that bees may stop to take a sip of. What this means for you and I is that this pesticide can’t be peeled or washed off. It is in the fruits, stalks, leaves and seeds of any food plant that is treated with it. That would include non-organic foods and especially commodity crops like corn and soy. What’s worse is that when it’s applied, the plants only take up about 5%, leaving 95% in the soil to be taken up by other plants over the next 3.5 years. I don’t care to do the algebra to figure out how much ends up in the soil with annual applications over 5 or 10 years. They came into use in the 1990s.

As if that news weren’t bad enough, farmers tend to do “tank mixes” when they need to spray multiple “icides” at a given time. When you mix neonictanoids (around 1,000 times more toxic than DDT all on their own) with fungicides (which you wouldn’t think would bother insects) the results are significantly more toxic to bees than simple addition would account for.

Before we shake our fingers at farmers, though, we need to talk about conventionally kept home landscaping. There are two ways to bring this poison onto your land. The first is to buy plants that are treated with it. The second is to buy it off the shelf and apply it yourself. It’s in the farmer’s financial interest to stick with the recommended application amounts. The same really doesn’t apply in back yards, so non-farm applications tend to be a whole lot more intense. Back yards are also where a whole lot of flowers can be found throughout the season. That’s not a healthy combination for bees.

So what can we do about it? If you’re keeping bees, rotate two to four frames out each year and get rid of the wax where it’s been accumulating. Whether you’re a beekeeper or not, make sure that your purchased plants are neonictanoid-free. Lowes has already pledged to be so, and if you’re supporting small businesses, ask your local nursery if they are. If not, encourage them to move in that direction. If you must use insecticides, don’t use that one. It would be better still if you learned how to create a healthy environment so that you don’t need insecticides. If you live in Boulder, or if you want to start this in your own town, it may even qualify you to be part of a bee sactuary.

I have a few random parting thoughts on neonictanoids. Honey bees, because of how they treat the nectar to make honey, are able to somewhat detoxify the poisons before feeding them to the larvae. Native bees, which are also very, very important for pollination, do not have this ability, so this is even more dangerous for them. It appears to be the only treatment for the Emerald Ash Borer, which has made its way to Colorado. This is why you don’t carry firewood across state lines. Some crops in Europe have been required to become neonictanoid-free. Many of them are subsequently showing higher yields. This poison is so bad our own government is taking steps against it- BLM land and national parks are becoming neonictanoid-free. Folks, if the government thinks it might be a bad idea, we are way behind the eight-ball to still be using it.

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