America’s rapidly declining bee population has proven a mystery for years.
But now we have some evidence that it’s insecticides that are killing them off. While this may sound obvious, it hasn’t been widely suspected before, and, because bees don’t eat the plants we treat with insecticides, it hasn’t been entirely clear how these insecticides could be harming our bees.
But a new study out of Purdue University suggests a transmission mechanism that could expose bees to these pesticides, and also evidence that this is happening at an alarming rate.
Evidently, many farmers coat their corn and soybean seeds with a neonicotinoid insecticides before planting them. Because these insecticides are sticky, and could otherwise get caught in planting machinery, the farmers cover the seeds with talc. In the planting process, much of this talc is spewed into the environment, and some of the insecticide goes with it. This extremely concentrated insecticide can then land on flowering plants and either kill bees on the spot or be transported back to the hive along with pollen.
But that’s not the only way the insecticide gets to our bees: It can also be found in the soil up to two years after planting, and be taken up by other plants that grow in the corn or soybeans’ wake. And it can also be found in corn pollen picked up by the bees.
In the end, these insecticides have been found in dead and dying bees in agricultural areas. And even living bees in these areas often show signs of disorientation, tremors and convulsions, all signs of insecticide poisoning. Even those bees that don’t die directly from the exposure may die from a weakening of their immune systems’ ability to ward of pests or a loss of homing ability.
And this is not worrisome only for the bees themselves. Though bees aren’t necessary to sustain our corn or soybean crops, they are necessary for many fruits and nuts, not to mention wild plant life. Bees provide our nation’s agriculture a service valued at about $15 to $20 billion per year.
As the bees go, so goes much of our agriculture.