Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Birds and the Bees

The following post was sent to me by John Green of Longview, WA and concerns the possible link between certain insecticides and Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees. The suspect insecticides belong to a new class called neonicotinoids and one of the more common active ingredients is imidacloprid.

In 2007, many newspapers ran articles concerning the disappearance of bees, crop pollinators and songbirds. Farmers are becoming alarmed that there will not be enough bees around to pollinate their crops. These crops are our food supply. So what is happening to the bees?

A look at our life styles gives us the answer. Our dependence on chemicals permeates every aspect of our lives. Walk through garden supply departments and see rows and rows of chemicals. When citizens douse their lawns and gardens with pesticides to try to have the greenest lawn or the prettiest flowers in the neighborhood, they use chemicals that are toxic to bees. In our pursuit of perfect produce, farmers spread pesticides, which are considered highly toxic to bees.

Many cities spread pesticides to control the aphids and leaf miners and other insect “pests”. One of the most commonly used pesticides is Imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid class of pesticide), which was outlawed in France because of its toxicity to bees. This chemical stays in the soil for months, and in some cases years. Even small amounts will disorient bees to the extent that they cannot find their way back to their hives. The bees also lose the ability to groom themselves, exposing them to mite and virus infestation and death. Imidacloprid is applied to the soil within a tree’s drip-line, where it is absorbed by the root system and then spreads to the leaves and flowers where bees forage. Imidacloprid is not just absorbed by the target trees, but by any flower or plant growing in the soil where it is applied. Even clover, which grows under the trees becomes deadly to the bees which forage there. Imidacloprid is also toxic to earthworms, which live in the soil and to fish if it enters the storm water that drains into our lakes, streams, and rivers.

Our songbirds are also affected by pesticide use. Research has shown that birds which eat insects which have eaten pesticides become sick and in many cases, die. At one time DDT was thought to be safe, until many years elapsed and we discovered how detrimental it was to the environment and the creatures living in it. Could imidacloprid be the next case of DDT? Each of us can help curb a natural catastrophe (and a potential risk to human health) by not applying pesticides to our own yards or farms and also by calling your city to ask them to stop using chemicals, which are threatening our birds and bees. There are more environmentally safe ways to deal with harmful insects.

Remember, pesticides cannot distinguish “good” bugs from “bad” bugs.


Possible culprit identified in decline of honey bees
Earth & Sky Radio Series about Colony Collapse Disorder
Environmentally friendly pest control

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