It’s been suspected for a few years, but recent peer-reviewed scientific studies have concluded that neonicotinoid pesticides, the world’s most widely used class of insecticides, are responsible for colony collapse disorder, the massive die-off of honeybees . These pesticides are also now believed to be responsible for the deaths of birds and non-target insect life in soil and waterways.
The biggest users of neonicotinoid pesticides are Big-Ag farmers, mostly those who grow corn, sunflowers, and canola. The seeds are coated with these pesticides, a safer and more efficient way of treating crops than spraying multiple times throughout the growing season. The neonicotinoids spread through the plant as it grows, providing season-long protection, but some of the pesticide ends up in the pollen, which bees feed on.
And birds eat the seeds. Neonicotinoids are shown to interfere with avian reproduction, and many songbirds, due to their small size, are killed by the pesticide-laced seeds. Additionally, once in the soil, the pesticide kills non-target insects which birds and other wildlife depend on for food, and washes into waterways where it kills the aquatic insects that fish depend upon.
According to a recent article in Wired , “Derived from nicotine, which short-circuits the nervous systems of insects that try to eat tobacco plants, neonicotinoids at first seemed both effective and safe. They now account for some one-quarter of global insecticide sales, used on hundreds of crops and also in gardens and cities. In the last several years, though, it’s become evident that regulators, especially the Environmental Protection Agency, overlooked the extreme toxicity of neonicotinoids to honeybees and other pollinators. Regulatory approvals were partly based on industry studies now considered unreliable, and sometimes despite the concerns of the EPA’s own scientists.
“Neonicotinoids subsequently emerged as a prime suspect in colony collapse disorder, the unexplained malady that since 2005 has annually killed about one-third of the nation’s commercial honeybees, and may also affect bumblebee populations. The pesticides are blamed for triggering collapses outright or making bees vulnerable to diseases and parasites.”
Wildlife organizations throughout Europe and North America are calling for an immediate ban on all neonicotinoids and a coalition has filed suit with the EPA to ban the chemicals. Cynthia Palmer, Pesticides Program Manager for the American Bird Conservancy , one of the nation’s leading bird conservation organizations said, “A single corn kernel coated with a neonicotinoid can kill a songbird… And as little as 1/10th of a neonicotinoid-coated corn seed per day during egg-laying season is all that is needed to affect reproduction.”
Neonicotinoid pesticides are sold under these brand names: Actara, Adage, Adjust, Admire, Assail, Arena, Belay, Calypso, Centric, Clutch, Confidor, Cruiser, Encore, Flagship, Goucho, Helix, Intruder, Ledgend, Meridian, Merit, Platinum, Poncho, Pravado, Premise, and Titan. (Courtesy of the Senior Extension Associate at Penn State University)
While the EPA re-evaluates the safety tests the manufacturers submitted to gain approval for neonicotinoids – tests done by the companies themselves – these deadly pesticides will continue to be used, killing more bees, non-target insects, and birds. Gardeners however, can start reversing the cycle right away by including a pesticide-free area for pollinators in their gardens. In fact, your entire garden and lawn should be free of all pesticides.
What gardeners can do to help bees right now
It’s essential that every gardener plant native flora to attract bees – mason bees, blue orchard bees, leafcutter bees, bumble bees, the whole range of bees native to your area. Pollinators also include many small insects, hummingbirds , moths, and butterflies, some which feed during the day and many which feed nocturnally. Bees and other pollinators are adapted to the native plants of your area and rely on them as a source of food, and in the case of butterflies, laying eggs. Pollinators rarely adapt to non-native plants – they’ll search elsewhere or simply die. Look here for a list of local plants for your area that will attract bees and provide a habitat for them.
And when you see a bee – any bee at all – don’t kill it. A bee won’t sting you unless threatened, and in fact, many can’t sting at all. Don’t swat at it – if you have a fear of bees, just step aside and let the bee go about his business.
Avoid using any pesticides whatsoever, because it’s completely unnecessary in a well-balanced garden. This is a topic I write about frequently, but unfortunately, tens of millions of pounds of it are dumped on gardens and lawns every year. See these articles: How To Be A Better Gardener ; Keep Your Lawn Green Without Chemicals; How To Control Garden Pests Without Chemicals ; Organic Lawn Care 101; Pesticide Residue In Food ; Are Fertilizers and Pesticides Safe For Your Lawn?
We gardeners can play a vital role in the restoration of bee habitat and the elimination of deadly chemicals in soil and waterways.
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