It Looks Like Bees Could Be Addicted to Pesticides

Bees are industrious. Bees are pollinators. Bees are… addicts?

Years worth of research on the alarming rate of colony collapse disorder has pretty conclusively linked bee deaths to agriculture’s prolific use of pesticides – that much is not really up for debate. Now a new study is showing pesticide is even more harmful than we thought in that bees become addicted to the stuff and deliberately seek it out.

Oh, the irony. The very chemicals we understand to kill the bees have also become the bees’ drug of choice. Unfortunately, there’s no insect-focused DARE program to warn them of the dangers of seeking out neonicotinoid-coated food sources.

Scientists at two London universities conducted an experiment to determine whether bees have a preference for food tainted with pesticides. For the span of a week and a half, ten bumblebee colonies were presented with two food sources: one sugary substance with neonicotinoids mixed in and one without. Initially, the bees’ intuition was on the money and they mostly stuck to the chemical-free option.

However, that didn’t hold up over the ten days. Those bees that decided to try the poisoned sugar subsequently demonstrated a strong affinity for it over food without pesticides. The scientists even mixed up which containers had the pesticides to make sure it wasn’t a locational preference – indeed, the bees would seek out the tainted sugar, indicating that somehow they knew the difference.

Moreover, the scientists witnessed these bees start to exhibit symptoms of addiction, and think there’s a sensible explanation for that phenomenon. “Neonicotinoids target nerve receptors in insects that are similar to receptors targeted by nicotine in mammals,” said Richard Gill, the lead researcher on this study.

By the researchers’ own admissions, this topic would need to be studied much more exhaustively before anyone can decisively say that bees have gotten addicted to the very chemicals devastating their populations, but it’s certainly an important finding that deserves further inspection.

If, as the study indicates, bees are drawn to neonicotinoids, it supports the European Union’s recent decision to ban the substance entirely. It’s not enough to just make it less prevalent – if bees are developing a taste for it, even a limited number of crops could infect nearby colonies.

Take Action

Amidst all the Brexit turmoil, the EU’s pesticide ban doesn’t necessarily apply to the UK unless the country decides to adopt it on its own accord. Given this latest development by British researchers, it seems like a good idea that leaders get rid of the bee-killing/addicting neonicotinoids for the safety of the entire agricultural system. Here’s a popular Care2 petition calling on the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs to intervene.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

93 comments

Marie W
Marie W24 days ago

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Vincent T
Vincent T25 days ago

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Barbara S
Barbara S27 days ago

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Ellie L1 months ago

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Anna R2 months ago

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

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John J2 months ago

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John J2 months ago

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Thomas M
Thomas M2 months ago

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