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Can Bees Be Getting Buzzed from Neonicotinoid Pesticides?

Team TFS
Team TFS
Neonicotinoid pesticides and beesBee colony collapse has become a popular topic in the news lately; I noticed it was mentioned in an episode of the TV show Elementary that my mother was watching the other day. The story focused on the murder of someone who was studying bee colony collapse and not the bees themselves but it struck me that a science story reaching popular culture is indicative of how concerning the story is to all of us.


Bees Prefer Pesticide-Laced Foods?

My colleague Pranathi Perati recently blogged about this problem of declining bee populations in Bee-Ware of Pesticides (link to Pranathi’s bio and the article) and it immediately brought to my mind a letter that I read in Nature, Bees prefer foods containing neonicotinoid pesticides (link to letter on Nature’s website). The researchers from Newcastle University, Trinity College Dublin, and University of Oxford, describe experiments in which bees were given the choice of feeding between two sucrose solutions: one spiked with neonicotinoid pesticides, and one consisting of pure sucrose. The authors observed that both honeybees and bumblebees preferred the pesticide-laced solutions. And, just as humans become addicted to cigarettes because of the pleasure, or the nicotine buzz, it appears that neonicotinoid pesticides could be providing a similar buzz for bees.

Neonicotinoid pesticides, as the name suggests, are chemically similar to nicotine, which led the authors to conclude that the compounds may be giving the bees a similar buzz as nicotine gives to humans. This would explain the bees’ preference for the nicotine-laced food. Here is what I found fascinating as I continued to read more about this subject. While neonicotinoids have already been linked to honeybee colony collapse disorder by some studies, other experts have suggested that in the wild honeybees are exposed to both pesticide-containing food and non-pesticide-containing food and that their exposure is thusly diluted.

The authors’ findings are important because it suggests that bees may be preferentially choosing the pesticide-containing food in the wild. This is, of course, an absolutely fascinating read for me as a scientist, but the implications are two-fold for all human beings. First, pesticides could be potentially contributing to declining bee populations which are vital for agriculture. Bees help pollinate billions of dollars of crops each year. And, according to a report this month from The Bee Informed Partnership, beekeepers reported losing almost ten percent more of their colonies between April 2014 and April 2015 than in the same period in 2013 and 2014. Second, the pesticides can end up in honey and the foods and beverages we consume that have been sweetened with honey. By the way, in some countries, such as Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, the consumption of honey exceeds one kilogram per capita per year!


Detecting Pesticides in Honey

The ability to detect pesticide residues in honey is, therefore, important. Continuing Pranathi’s article which focused on sample preparation for the extraction of pesticides in bee-based products, I thought I would continue the story forward with applications and articles on the chromatography and mass spectrometry detection of pesticide residues in honey.

Interesting resources include:

Additionally, our Food Community and Pesticide Community pages are invaluable resources, where you can find more application notes, on-demand webinars, articles, and more. We are constantly adding new content to these pages, so check back frequently.


If you have questions about pesticides residue analysis, please enter them in the comments box below and we will be sure to answer them.