Insecticides directly kill bees, but other chemicals like herbicides still hurt their habitat by removing pollen rich plants from the ecosystem. FORESTWANDER VIA CC BY SA 3.0 US
Insecticides directly kill bees, but other chemicals like herbicides still hurt their habitat by removing pollen rich plants from the ecosystem. FORESTWANDER VIA CC BY SA 3.0 US

Sharon Pochron is a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agree: Bees need our help. Both of these agencies have moved to protect them, listing them as endangered.

But protect them from what? It’s a complicated story.

Insecticides can directly kill bees, no surprise there, but let’s assume some bees live. Herbicides then reduce the abundance of high-quality bee food. Bumblebees and honeybees love to eat protein-rich pollen, but herbicides remove pollen from the bees’ environment when they kill plants. So the bees that don’t die outright from pesticides live in a world without a lot of food.

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But we’re not done with this story. Bees that survive exposure to insecticides, especially nicotine-based powders and sprays, suffer from impaired cognitive abilities. This makes them bad at finding food, which has been made scarce from herbicide applications. So bees that survived sub-lethal doses of insecticides are hungry and confused, but it gets worse. Their bee immune systems get suppressed from exposure to insecticides. They become infected with parasite infections and viral diseases, and then they bring these infections back home to their hives. At this point, they die, taking their hivemates with them. This is the story of colony collapse.

If you have a heart, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “poor bees.” And you’d be right. 

But I have my sights on the more corporate-minded of you. You might think bees are cool enough, but they sting, and after all, they’re just bugs. If you’re that person, take a look at these photos.

The Hanyuan county in China’s Sichuan province has killed all their bees with pesticides and herbicides. As seen in the images, the farmer in the tree has to rub pear pollen onto every single blossom, doing the job of the missing bees. What do you think will happen to the price of pears? To almonds and pecans? To apples and cherries? You don’t have to be an economics major to answer correctly.

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We haven’t reached that point in the U.S., but think of this. You know those bees that died because of pesticides and herbicides in places like New York, Hawaii and Georgia? They were living in our food, eating the pollen of our food and they died because they found the cocktail of chemicals swirling around our food too toxic to survive.

How does that peach taste now?

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22 comments

  1. I think they should stop spraying the insecticides and stop killing off the bees. If they stopped killing off the bees, humans would not have to pollenate by hand

  2. Wow, I would have never thought of giving a look into the future of bees dying off. The business side of this terrible problem might just be what the world needs to see in order for them to wake up and do something about this, as sad as it sounds. I don’t believe the world is educated enough about this growing worry to realize how it could effect human culture in the long run. It seems as though the pictures of the farmers rubbing pear pollen on blossoms is a cold look into the future if we do not make the necessary changes. I really believe we need to make progress towards stopping the spraying of pesticides and herbicides which are doing way more harm to nature than they are helping humans.

  3. Alarming, the food we all eat is getting so contaminated that even bees are not able survive to those chemicals.

  4. This article gives insight on the dangers of the use of pesticides and herbicides. Many people are unaware of their harmful side effects, and hopefully this topic will bring light to it. The idea of eating any food that is coated with chemicals disturbs me, and it’s even more upsetting to know that they’re a cause to endangering the species of bees. The potential decrease in natural methods of pollination concerns me.

  5. We need to start working harder in decreasing the amount of pesticides that we are putting into our environment. It is vital that we put a stop to this before we end up losing our bee population like they did in China’s Sichuan province. This article gave a lot of important insight of what can happen to the bee population if we don’t take care of our environment and pay attention to what we’re putting into it.

  6. I fear in my lifetime I will see the collapse of the bee population unless regulatory action is taken on pesticides, herbicides or insecticides. Mono-cultural agriculture also poses a problem since this action enables the excessive use of dangerous chemicals.

  7. I think back to some of the over-the-top geoengineering proposals. The ocean is getting acidic? Just have a fleet of ships discharge bases. Earth getting too hot? Just spray particulates to make some more clouds to deflect the sun. Ice melting? Just insulate it. Bee dying? Just pollinate it ourselves.

  8. The thought of having to mechanically self-pollinate crops paints a truly horrifying picture of the destruction of nature – where man has reached the point of ruining its complex, self-sustaining systems. Bees needed our help for a long time, but we must also recognize they do so because of our consumerism. Changes must be implemented in our agricultural and marketing practices.

  9. It’s a shame that the general public can only understand the importance of bees through the eyes of a consumer. Maybe one day the world will see their importance beyond monetary value.

  10. America faces a harsh future if we do not protect our bees. It is unfortunate that this impeding crisis must be thought of in terms of its negative economic impact rather than the important role bees play in our environment overall. Hopefully, the U.S. can alter its trajectory towards having to individually pollinate plants.

  11. Pesticides and herbicides have such a huge effect on bees and other organisms making it insane that many people still use them freely. Going organic and increasing green spaces can have a huge effect on bee populations and our own health.

  12. We need to look further into the detrimental chain effect, caused by the extinction of pollinators. Just like a row of domino, we may not experience the immediate impact of their extinction, but eventually, it will be our turn to take the fall.

  13. More needs to be done in efforts to eliminating pesticides and herbicides that are affect bee populations because bees are such an important species to the environment and our food supply.

  14. I was that person. after seeing those photos and the statements made by Dr. Pochron, it changed my perception on what type of impact bees can have in our food supply.

  15. If the evidence is clear, as seen in China’s Sichuan providence, why isn’t the FDA putting their efforts toward eliminating pesticides and herbicides that are causing the bee population to decline?

  16. it’s shocking to know that the farmers use hand to pollinate flowers with chicken feathers and I wonder how long will it take to pollinate each and every flowers. We should definitely aware people of bees extinction since we would not want to pollinate flowers using hand that would take forever.

  17. It’s a harsh reality knowing bees are finding it harder to survive due to pesticides that are being sprayed on our food. It definitely makes me triple think of going organic!

  18. Yes, poor bees. It’s alarming how much damage herbicides have on them. I had no idea that people started pollinating by hand either. The consequences of the loss of bees definitely deserves attention.

  19. The Washington Post published an article in September on a South Carolina county spraying for mosquitoes that may carry Zika with Naled and killing ~2.5 million bees on accident. The repercussions for not considering the entire system when making decisions like this are too severe to ignore.

  20. Most people know about the saturation of our food with various pesticides, however, i have never truly considered the consequences until reading this article.

  21. Natasha Reynoso

    Through reading this article I’ve learned that nicotine-based powders or sprays impair bees’ cognitive abilities.

  22. Wow! After reading the last article, I started to wonder what would happen but this article cleared up those thoughts. It’s scary to think we could get to that point where we have to self pollinate as well. What’s even scarier is that we are eating food that has come in contact with pesticides that are killing bees.

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