Scientists discover what’s killing the bees and it’s worse than you thought

By on Jul 30, 2013

As we’ve written before, the mysterious mass die-off of honey bees that pollinate $30 billion worth of crops in the US has so decimated America’s apis mellifera population that one bad winter could leave fields fallow. Now, a new study has pinpointed some of the probable causes of bee deaths and the rather scary results show that averting beemageddon will be much more difficult than previously thought.

Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch’s brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.

When researchers collected pollen from hives on the east coast pollinating cranberry, watermelon and other crops and fed it to healthy bees, those bees showed a significant decline in their ability to resist infection by a parasite called Nosema ceranae. The parasite has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder though scientists took pains to point out that their findings do not directly link the pesticides to CCD. The pollen was contaminated on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in one sample. Scientists identified eight ag chemicals associated with increased risk of infection by the parasite.

Most disturbing, bees that ate pollen contaminated with fungicides were three times as likely to be infected by the parasite. Widely used, fungicides had been thought to be harmless for bees as they’re designed to kill fungus, not insects, on crops like apples.


Outlawing a type of insecticides is not a panacea. AP Photo/Ben Margot


“There’s growing evidence that fungicides may be affecting the bees on their own and I think what it highlights is a need to reassess how we label these agricultural chemicals,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the study’s lead author, told Quartz.

Labels on pesticides warn farmers not to spray when pollinating bees are in the vicinity but such precautions have not applied to fungicides.

Bee populations are so low in the US that it now takes 60% of the country’s surviving colonies just to pollinate one California crop, almonds. And that’s not just a west coast problem—California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, a market worth $4 billion.

In recent years, a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids has been linked to bee deaths and in April regulators banned the use of the pesticide for two years in Europe where bee populations have also plummeted. But vanEngelsdorp, an assistant research scientist at the University of Maryland, says the new study shows that the interaction of multiple pesticides is affecting bee health.

“The pesticide issue in itself is much more complex than we have led to be believe,” he says. “It’s a lot more complicated than just one product, which means of course the solution does not lie in just banning one class of product.”

The study found another complication in efforts to save the bees: US honey bees, which are descendants of European bees, do not bring home pollen from native North American crops but collect bee chow from nearby weeds and wildflowers. That pollen, however, was also contaminated with pesticides even though those plants were not the target of spraying.

“It’s not clear whether the pesticides are drifting over to those plants but we need take a new look at agricultural spraying practices,” says vanEngelsdorp.

By Todd Woody



  • Carolyn Clark

    What about chemtrails? Perhaps our beutifull bees are being poisoned by the heavy chemicals being dropped from the air by the military.

    • writerandfighter

      Please remove yourself from the genepool..

    • Daniel

      By the military? Since when is military involved in farming? Those are dropped by private pilots working for different farms. It is more efficient to hire a pilot (a private pilot, not an Air Force Blue Angels) for a couple hours to spray a field, rather than a hundred farm workers walking with sprayers for days. And yes, those bug me too, I don’t want that shit in the air. However, very few people live in the agricultural areas, and those who do, are usually the ones who work on farms. Most population live in the cities distant enough from the farms, so it doesn’t bother them…

    • Dub

      That was actually a pretty funny read. Thanks for the Monday morning laugh.

  • high treason

    At least they did not try and spin the old BS about global warming, climate change or whatever the BS of the day is. If bees go, humans go 2 years later. Simple. Reckon the fungicide kills a fungus that attacks the parasite. Either a cure for the parasite(yet another thing to spray along with other side effects) or work out which fungus is a parasite on the parasite and alter the fungicide. The problem should be straight forward to research.

  • Hayden Holbert

    What this article fails to mention is that we aren’t dealing with only American bees. In California in the vast monocultures of Almond trees, there are bees brought in from around the world that were never meant to come into contact with each other. It creates a a breading ground for disease and viruses to spread amongst them. The solution here is not only to eliminate the toxic chemicals that weaken their resistance, but to stop patronizing these farming practices and integrate locally sourced food. This of course is in addition to every household that has a lawn replace it with an edible landscape and perhaps a chicken or two. That is real food security.

    • Trond Roda

      Bees were brought in from Austalia because the american bees were dying/poisoned. The Australian ones are dying to, in the us that is

    • GNewman

      Probably from all them homos & dikes in CA.

  • Paul Burfeind

    The article fails to mention which pesticides in particular were found. I spray pesticides for a living and would love to know if the chemicals I use are in question.

    • Glory to the King

      Read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring…and google around…all pesticides are damaging to insects, animals and humans…if you can find another job would be a blessing..for you…

      • Paul Burfeind

        I have a 2 year degree in Forestry and a 4 year degree in Environmental Studies. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was required reading.

        In todays modern society, with 7 Billion souls, how do you expect to feed that many people with out the use of pesticides? Do you want to use Organic farming? Let me explain something about organic farming. They use pesticides as well. Anything that kills a “pest” whether it be soap or oil or copper sulfate is still a pesticide. I have used some “Organic” fungicides that are deadly to use (If absorbed through the skin could cause death), while many of my chemical products are much safer. Our society requires the use of pesticides to keep our society alive.

        I try to, when treating my clients trees and shrubs, be as careful as possible not to treat plant in flower, so as not to harm bees and other benificial insects. I use plenty of soaps and oils when practical.

        • buglady

          I read Silent Spring from cover to cover. As a former exterminator, I feel it was more a lack of oversight and instruction than the products themselves. The products used today are used in the smallest concentration to achieve the desired effect (kill ants, etc). The products that may/may not be causing the bee deficiencies are mainly applied by homeowners and farmers. I can honestly say that being in residential pest control for 8 years, I have never used a neonicotinoid, which is what they are blaming for the ccd.

          • Paul Burfeind

            If you had read the abstract you would have noticed that the neonicotinoids, which were initually blamed for the ccd, was only a small percentage of the problem. The report stated that many fungicides were to blame. Except for Imidocloparid (Merit) I use none of the other products listed.

            The vast majority of the products listed are used soley by farmers. Most of those products are restricted use only(homeowners are unable to purchase). Fortunatly, here in North Amreica, pesticide use is highly regulated. Unfortionatly, the rest of the world (Asia, mostly) do not regulate usage and there are farmers overdosing their crops with these products, and that is a shame.

        • Mark Stewart

          vindicating yourself well there I see …. these chemicals kill …full stop, it’s ridiculous attempting to divide these into “good and bad” chemicals. BTW can I ask a serious question, are you American ?

          • Paul Burfeind

            Why do you want to know if I am American? What has that got to do whith anything? Yes I AM!

            I am certified by the State of New York, which has some of the toughest laws in the nation concerning pesticides, to apply pesticides and I am an ISA Certified Arborist. I go through countless hours of training every year on the safe and proper use of these products so as to avoid environmental issues and to avoid health issues as an applicator.

            I have no intentions to STOP using these products, because I know that we need these products.

  • Navigator7

    What happened to artificial night light killing the bees causing them to pick up the fungus?

  • Adam

    Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years.

    Thats the first problem with the human race. 10 million beehives are gone and how many billions of bees dead and the biggest worries are about money lost. You stupid fucks.

    • Markov

      If there was no money involved, there would be no care for the bees. Because the bees are used to make money is why they actually seem to give a fuck.

    • Typical

      Not “you stupid fucks” but “we stupid fucks”

  • Michael Robert Merritt

    Does no one think about the cumulative effect and mixing of the chemicals to create another damaging chemical soup that is not to be blamed on one product? Its my belief science is ignoring this type of problem and manufacturers are happy to claim their product is not the culprit, but together they all are.