Common Crop Pesticides Kill Honeybee Larvae in the Hive

Four pesticides commonly used on crops to kill insects and fungi also kill honeybee larvae within their hives, according to Penn State and University of Florida researchers.

February 3, 2014

Four pesticides commonly used on crops to kill insects and fungi also kill honeybee larvae within their hives, according to Penn State and University of Florida researchers.

"We found that four of the pesticides most commonly found in beehives kill bee larvae," said Jim Frazier, professor of entomology, Penn State. "We also found that the negative effects of these pesticides are sometimes greater when the pesticides occur in combinations within the hive. Since pesticide safety is judged almost entirely on adult honeybee sensitivity to individual pesticides and also does not consider mixtures of pesticides, the risk assessment process that the Environmental Protection Agency uses should be changed."

According to Frazier, the team's previous research demonstrated that forager bees bring back to the hive an average of six different pesticides on the pollen they collect. Nurse bees use this pollen to make beebread, which they then feed to honeybee larvae.

To examine the effects of four common pesticides - fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorothalonil and chlorpyrifos - on bee larvae, the researchers reared honeybee larvae in their laboratory. They then applied the pesticides alone and in all combinations to the beebread to determine whether these insecticides and fungicides act alone or in concert to create a toxic environment for honeybee growth and development.

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