Pesticide toxicity to bees

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Pesticides vary in their effects on bees. Contact pesticides are usually sprayed on plants and can kill bees when they crawl over sprayed surfaces of plants or other areas around it. Systemic pesticides, on the other hand, are usually incorporated into the soil or onto seeds and move up into the stem, leaves, nectar, and pollen of plants.[1]

Of contact pesticides, dust and wettable powder pesticides tend to be more hazardous to bees than solutions or emulsifiable concentrates. When a bee comes in contact with pesticides while foraging, the bee may die immediately without returning to the hive. In this case, the queen bee, brood, and nurse bees are not contaminated and the colony survives. Alternatively, the bee may come into contact with an insecticide and transport it back to the colony in contaminated pollen or nectar or on its body, potentially causing widespread colony death.[2]

Actual damage to bee populations is a function of toxicity and exposure of the compound, in combination with the mode of application. A systemic pesticide, which is incorporated into the soil or coated on seeds, may kill soil-dwelling insects, such as grubs or mole crickets as well as other insects, including bees, that are exposed to the leaves, fruits, pollen, and nectar of the treated plants.[3]

Pesticides are linked to Colony Collapse Disorder and are now considered a main cause, and the toxic effects of Neonicotinoids on bees are confirmed.[4] Currently, many studies are being conducted to further understand the toxic effects of pesticides on bees. Agencies such as the EPA[5] and EFSA[6] are making action plans to protect bee health in response to calls from scientists and the public to ban or limit the use of the pesticides with confirmed toxicity.


Insecticide toxicity is generally measured using acute contact toxicity values LD50 – the exposure level that causes 50% of the population exposed to die. Toxicity thresholds are generally set at[7][8]

  • highly toxic (acute LD50 < 2μg/bee)
  • moderately toxic (acute LD50 2 - 10.99μg/bee)
  • slightly toxic (acute LD50 11 - 100μg/bee)
  • nontoxic (acute LD50 > 100μg/bee) to adult bees.

Pesticide Toxicity[edit]

Acute toxicity[edit]

The acute toxicity of pesticides on bees, which could be by contact or ingestion, is usually quantified by LD50. Acute toxicity of pesticides causes a range of effects on bees, which can include agitation, vomiting, wing paralysis, arching of the abdomen similar to sting reflex, and uncoordinated movement. Some pesticides, including Neonicotinoids, are more toxic to bees and cause acute symptoms with lower doses compared to older classes of insecticides. Acute toxicity may depend on the mode of exposure, for instance, many pesticides cause toxic effects by contact while Neonicotinoids are more toxic when consumed orally. The acute toxicity, although more lethal, is less common than sub-lethal toxicity or cumulative effects.[9][10]

Sublethal and chronic effects[edit]

Field exposure to pesticides, especially with relation to neonicotinoids,[11] may lead to multiple physiological and/or behavioral sublethal effects in exposed bees.[12] Sublethal effects to honey bees are of major concern and include behavioral disruptions such as disorientation,[13] thermoregulation,[14] reduced foraging,[15] decreased flight[16] and locomotion[17][18] abilities, impaired memory and learning, phototaxis (response to light),[17] and a shift in communication behaviors. Additional sub-lethal effects may include compromised immunity of bees and delayed development.[9]

Neonicotinoids are especially likely to cause cumulative effects on bees due to their mechanism of function as this pesticide group works by binding to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the brains of the insects, and such receptors are particularly abundant in bees. Over-accumulation of acetylcholine results in paralysis and death.[9]

Colony collapse disorder[edit]

Colony collapse disorder is a syndrome that is characterized by the sudden loss of adult bees from the hive. Many possible explanations for it have been proposed, but no one primary cause has been found. The US Department of Agriculture has indicated in a report to Congress that a combination of factors may be causing colony collapse disorder, including pesticides, pathogens, and parasites, all of which have been found at high levels in affected bee hives.[19]

The development of a bee from egg to adult takes about three weeks. The queens daily laying rate will decline if contaminated materials are brought back to the hive such as pesticides.31.6% of exposed honey bees will fail to return to their colony every day while the rest will bring back contaminated pollen which in turn will not only affect the worker bees but also the queen. As a consequence there will be an upset in colony dynamics.[20]

Colony Collapse Disorder has more implication than the extinction of one bee species; the disappearance of honeybees can cause catastrophic health and financial impacts. Honeybee pollination has an estimated value of more than $14 billion annually to the United States agriculture. Honeybees are required for pollinating many crops, which range from nuts to vegetables and fruits, that are necessary for human and animal diet.[21]

The EPA updated their guidance for assessing pesticide risks to honeybees in 2014. For the EPA, when certain pesticide use patterns or triggers are met, current test requirements include the honey bee acute contact toxicity test, the honey bee toxicity of residues on foliage test, and field testing for pollinators. EPA guidelines have not been developed for chronic or acute oral toxicity to adult or larval honey bees. On the other hand, the PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency) requires both acute oral and contact honey bee adult toxicity studies when there is potential for exposure for insect pollinators. Primary measurement endpoint derived from the acute oral and acute contact toxicity studies is the median lethal dose for 50% of the organisms tested (i.e., LD50), and if any biological effects and abnormal responses appear, including sub-lethal effects, other than the mortality, it should be reported.

The EPA's testing requirements do not account for sub-lethal effects to bees or effects on brood or larvae. Their testing requirements are also not designed to determine effects in bees from exposure to systemic pesticides. With colony collapse disorder, whole hive tests in the field are needed in order to determine the effects of a pesticide on bee colonies. To date, there are very few scientifically valid whole hive studies that can be used to determine the effects of pesticides on bee colonies because the interpretation of such whole-colony effects studies is very complex and relies on comprehensive considerations of whether adverse effects are likely to occur at the colony level.[22]

A March 2012 study[20] conducted in Europe, in which minuscule electronic localization devices were fixed on bees, has shown that, even with very low levels of pesticide in the bee's diet, a high proportion of bees (more than one third) suffers from orientation disorder and is unable to come back to the hive. The pesticide concentration was order of magnitudes smaller than the lethal dose used in the pesticide's current use. The pesticide under study, brand-named "Cruiser" in Europe (thiamethoxam, a neonicotinoid insecticide), although allowed in France by annually renewed exceptional authorization, could be banned in the coming years by the European Commission.

Based on a risks to bee health as identified by EFSA, in April 2013 the EU decided to restrict thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and imidacloprid. The UK voted against the ban saying it would harm food production.[23] Agrochemical companies Syngenta and Bayer CropScience both began legal proceedings to object to the ban. It is their position that there is no science that implicates their pesticide products.[24]

Bee kill rate per hive[edit]

The kill rate of bees in a single bee hive can be classified as:[25]

< 100 bees per day - normal die off rate
200-400 bees per day - low kill
500-900 bees per day - moderate kill
1000+ bees per day - High Kill

Pesticides formulations[edit]

Pesticides come in different formulations:[2]

  • Dusts (D)
  • Wettable powders (WP)
  • Soluble powders (SP)
  • Emulsifiable concentrates (EC)
  • Solutions (LS)
  • Granulars (G)


All substances listed are insecticides, except for 2,4-D, which is an herbicide. Some substances are arachnicides too.

Common name (ISO) Examples of Brand names Pesticide Class length of residual toxicity Comments Bee toxicity
Sulfoxaflor Sulfoximine [26][27]
Aldicarb Temik Carbamate apply 4 weeks before bloom Relatively nontoxic
Bifenthrin[28][29] Agri-Medk, Abamectin, Talstar, Bifenthrine, Brigade, Capture, FMC 54800, OMS3024, Torant (with Clofentezine), and Zipak (with Amitraz)[30] Pyrethoid < 1 day RT

> 1 day ERT

Highly toxic to bees highly toxic
Carbaryl[31][citation needed] Sevin,

(b) Sevin XLR

Carbamate High risk to bees

foraging even 10 hours after spraying; 3 – 7 days (b) 8 hours @ 1.5 lb/acre (1681 g/Ha) or less.

Bees poisoned with carbaryl can take 2–3 days to die, appearing inactive as if cold. Sevin should never be sprayed on flowering crops, especially if bees are active and the crop requires pollination. Less toxic formulations exist. highly toxic
Carbofuran[32] Furadan Carbamate 7 – 14 days U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ban on use on crops grown for human consumption (2009) carbofuran (banned in granular form)[32] highly toxic
Methomyl[33] Lannate, Nudrin Carbamate 2 hours Should never be sprayed on flowering crops especially if bees are active and the crop requires pollination. highly toxic
Methiocarb Mesurol Carbamate highly toxic
Mexacarbate[34] Zectran Carbamate highly toxic
Pirimicarb Pirimor, Aphox Carbamate Relatively nontoxic
Propoxur[35] Baygon Carbamate Propoxur is highly toxic to honey bees. The LD50 for bees is greater than one ug/honey bee.[36] highly toxic
Acephate[37] Orthene Organophosphate 3 days Acephate is a broad-spectrum insecticide and is highly toxic to bees and other beneficial insects.[38] Moderately toxic
Azinphos-methyl[39] Guthion, Methyl-Guthion Organophosphate 2.5 days banned in the European Union since 2006.[40] highly toxic
Chlorpyrifos[41] Dursban, Lorsban Organophosphate banned in the US for home and garden use Should never be sprayed on flowering crops especially if bees are active and the crop requires pollination. highly toxic
Coumaphos[42] Checkmite Organophosphate This is an insecticide that is used inside the beehive to combat varroa mites and small hive beetles, which are parasites of the honey bee. Overdoses can lead to bee poisoning. Relatively nontoxic
Demeton[43] Systox Organophosphate <2 hours highly toxic
Demeton-S-methyl Meta-systox Organophosphate Moderately toxic
Diazinon[44] Spectracide Organophosphate Sale of diazinon for residential use was discontinued in the U.S. in 2004. Should never be sprayed on flowering crops especially if bees are active and the crop requires pollination. highly toxic
Dicrotophos[45] Bidrin Organophosphate Dicrotophos toxicity duration is about one week.[46] highly toxic
Dichlorvos[47] DDVP, Vapona Organophosphate highly toxic
Dimethoate[48] Cygon, De-Fend Organophosphate 3 days Should never be sprayed on flowering crops especially if bees are active and the crop requires pollination. highly toxic
Fenthion[49] Entex, Baytex, Baycid, Dalf, DMPT, Mercaptophos, Prentox, Fenthion 4E, Queletox,Lebaycid Organophosphate Should never be sprayed on flowering crops especially if bees are active and the crop requires pollination. highly toxic
Fenitrothion[50] Sumithion Organophosphate highly toxic
Fensulfothion Dasanit Organophosphate highly toxic
Fonofos[51] Dyfonate EC Organophosphate 3 hours List of Schedule 2 substances (CWC) highly toxic
Malathion Malathion USB, ~ EC, Cythion, maldison, mercaptothion Organophosphate >8 fl oz/acre (58 L/km²) ⇒ 5.5 days Malathion is highly toxic to bees and other beneficial insects, some fish, and other aquatic life. Malathion is moderately toxic to other fish and birds, and is considered low in toxicity to mammals.[52] highly toxic
Methamidophos[53] Monitor, Tameron Organophosphate Should never be sprayed on flowering crops especially if bees are active and the crop requires pollination. highly toxic
Methidathion[54] Supracide Organophosphate Should never be sprayed on flowering crops especially if bees are active and the crop requires pollination. highly toxic
Methyl parathion Parathion,[55] Penncap-M Organophosphate 5–8 days It is classified as a UNEP persistent organic pollutant and WHO Toxicity Class, "Ia, Extremely Hazardous".[citation needed] highly toxic
Mevinphos[56] Phosdrin Organophosphate highly toxic
Monocrotophos[57] Azodrin Organophosphate Should never be sprayed on flowering crops especially if bees are active and the crop requires pollination. highly toxic
Naled[58] Dibrom Organophosphate 16 hours highly toxic
Omethoate Organophosphate Should never be sprayed on flowering crops especially if bees are active and the crop requires pollination. highly toxic
Oxydemeton-methyl[59] Metasystox-R Organophosphate <2 hours highly toxic
Phorate[60] Thimet EC Organophosphate 5 hours highly toxic
Phosmet[61] Imidan Organophosphate Phosmet is very toxic to honeybees.[62] highly toxic
Phosphamidon Dimecron Organophosphate highly toxic
Pyrazophos Afugan Organophosphate fungicide highly toxic
Tetrachlorvinphos Rabon, Stirofos, Gardona, Gardcide Organophosphate highly toxic
Trichlorfon, Metrifonate Dylox, Dipterex Organophosphate 3 – 6 hours Relatively nontoxic
Permethrin[63] Ambush, Pounce Synthetic pyrethroid 1 – 2 days safened by repellency under arid conditions. Permethrin is also the active ingredient in insecticides used against the Small hive beetle, which is a parasite of the beehive in the temperate climate regions. highly toxic
Cypermethrin[64] Ammo, Demon, Raid, Viper Synthetic pyrethroid Less than 2 hours Cypermethrin is found in many household ant and cockroach killers, including Raid and ant chalk. highly toxic
Fenvalerate[65] Asana, Pydrin Synthetic pyrethroid 1 day safened by repellency under arid conditions highly toxic
Resmethrin[66][67][68][69][70] Black Flag Mosquito Fog Solution, Chrysron, Crossfire, Pynosect, Raid Flying Insect Killer, Scourge, Sun-Bugger #4, SPB-1382, Synthrin, Syntox, Vectrin, Whitmire PT-110 Synthetic pyrethroid Resmethrin is highly toxic to bees, with an LD50 of 0.063 ug/bee.[71] highly toxic
Methoxychlor[72] DMDT, Marlate Chlorinated cyclodiene 2 hours available as a General Use Pesticide highly toxic
Endosulfan[73] Thiodan Chlorinated cyclodiene 8 hours banned in European Union (2007?), New Zealand (2009) moderately toxic
Clothianidin[74] Poncho Neonicotinoid Banned in Germany

In June 2008, the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (Germany) suspended the registration of eight neonicotinoid pesticide seed treatment products used in oilseed rape and sweetcorn, a few weeks after honey bee keepers in the southern state of Baden Württemberg reported a wave of honey bee deaths linked to one of the pesticides, clothianidin.

Highly Toxic[75]
Thiamethoxam Actara Neonicotinoid Clothianidin is a major metabolite of Thiamethoxam. A two-year study published in 2012 showed the presence of clothianidin and thiamethoxam in bees found dead in and around hives situated near agricultural fields. Other bees at the hives exhibited tremors and uncoordinated movement and convulsions, all signs of insecticide poisoning.[76] Highly Toxic
Imidacloprid Confidor, Gaucho, Kohinor, Admire, Advantage, K9 Advantix, Merit, Confidor, Hachikusan, Amigo, SeedPlus (Chemtura Corp.), Monceren GT, Premise, Prothor, and Winner Neonicotinoid (see also Imidacloprid effects on bee population)Banned in France since 1999 highly toxic
Dicofol Acaricide Relatively nontoxic
Petroleum oils Relatively nontoxic
2,4-D[77] Weed B Gon (also contains dicamba), ingredient in over 1,500 products Synthetic auxin herbicide Relatively nontoxic


Highly toxic and banned in the US[edit]

EPA Proposal to Protect Bees from Acutely Toxic Pesticides in the US[edit]

The EPA is proposing to prohibit the application of certain pesticides and herbicides known toxic to bees during pollination periods when crops are in bloom. Growers routinely contract with honeybee keepers to bring in bees to pollinate their crops that require insect pollination. Bees are typically present during the period the crops are in bloom. Application of pesticides during this period can significantly affect the health of bees. These restrictions are expected to reduce the likelihood of high levels of pesticide exposure and mortality for bees providing pollination services. Moreover, the EPA believes these additional measures to protect bees providing pollination services will protect other pollinators as well.[84]

The proposed restrictions would apply to all products that have liquid or dust formulations as applied, foliar use (applying pesticides directly to crop leaves) directions for use on crops, and active ingredients that have been determined via testing to have high toxicity for bees (less than 11 micrograms per bee). These restrictions would not replace already existing more restrictive, chemical-specific, and bee-protective provisions. Additionally, the proposed label restrictions would not apply to applications made in support of a government-declared public health response, such as use for wide area mosquito control. There would be no other exceptions to these proposed restrictions.[84]

General Measures to Prevent Pesticides Bee Kills[edit]


Application of Pesticides at evening or night[edit]

Avoiding pesticide application directly to blooming flowers as much as possible can help limit the exposure of honeybees to toxic materials as honeybees are attracted to all types of blooming flowers. If blooming flowers must be sprayed with pesticides for any reason, they should be sprayed in the evening or night hours as bees are not in the field at that time. Usual foraging hours of honeybees are when the temperature is above 55-60 °F during the daytime, and by the evening, the bees return to the hives.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ministry of Agriculture
  2. ^ a b c [1]
  3. ^ Abrol, Dharam P. (2011-10-05). Pollination Biology: Biodiversity Conservation and Agricultural Production. ISBN 9789400719422.
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^ [4]
  7. ^ [5] Pollinator protection requirements for Section 18 Emergency Exemptions and Section 24(c) special local need registration in Washington State; Registration Services Program Pesticide Management Division Washington State Dept of Agriculture, Dec 2006
  8. ^ Malcolm T. Sanford: Protecting Honey Bees from Pesticides., UF, (334kB)
  9. ^ a b c [6]
  10. ^ [7]
  11. ^ Pisa, Lennard; Goulson, Dave; Yang, En-Cheng; Gibbons, David; Sánchez-Bayo, Francisco; Mitchell, Edward; Aebi, Alexandre; Van Der Sluijs, Jeroen; MacQuarrie, Chris J. K; Giorio, Chiara; Long, Elizabeth Yim; McField, Melanie; Bijleveld Van Lexmond, Maarten; Bonmatin, Jean-Marc (2017). "An update of the Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA) on systemic insecticides. Part 2: Impacts on organisms and ecosystems". Environmental Science and Pollution Research. doi:10.1007/s11356-017-0341-3. PMID 29124633.
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  13. ^ Fischer, Johannes; Müller, Teresa; Spatz, Anne-Kathrin; Greggers, Uwe; Grünewald, Bernd; Menzel, Randolf (2014). "Neonicotinoids Interfere with Specific Components of Navigation in Honeybees". PLOS ONE. 9 (3): e91364. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0091364. PMC 3960126. PMID 24646521.
  14. ^ Tosi, Simone; Démares, Fabien J; Nicolson, Susan W; Medrzycki, Piotr; Pirk, Christian W.W; Human, Hannelie (2016). "Effects of a neonicotinoid pesticide on thermoregulation of African honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata)" (PDF). Journal of Insect Physiology. 93-94: 56–63. doi:10.1016/j.jinsphys.2016.08.010. hdl:2263/56625. PMID 27568395.
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  19. ^ USDA CCD Report
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  23. ^ EU to Restrict 'Bee-Harming' Pesticides April 29, 2013 Wall Street Journal
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  26. ^ The National Beekeepers’ Association of New Zealand - Submission on Application ERMA200886
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  31. ^ carbaryl
  32. ^ a b carbofuran
  33. ^ methomyl
  34. ^ [9]
  35. ^ propoxur
  36. ^ [10]
  37. ^ "acephate". Archived from the original on 2008-03-06. Retrieved 2005-02-18.
  38. ^ [11]
  39. ^ azinphos-methyl
  40. ^ Scott, Alex (August 4, 2008). "Europe Rejects Appeal for Use of Azinphos-methyl Pesticide". Chemical Week. Retrieved 2008-08-11.
  41. ^ chlorpyrifos
  42. ^ coumaphos Archived February 5, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
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  44. ^ diazinon
  45. ^ dicrotophos
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  47. ^ dichlorvos
  48. ^ dimethoate
  49. ^ fenthion
  50. ^ fenitrothion
  51. ^ fonofos
  52. ^ [12]
  53. ^ methamidophos
  54. ^ methidathion
  55. ^ parathion
  56. ^ mevinphos
  57. ^ monocrotophos
  58. ^ naled
  59. ^ oxydemeton-methyl
  60. ^ phorate
  61. ^ phosmet
  62. ^ [13]
  63. ^ permethrin
  64. ^ cypermethrin
  65. ^ esfenvalerate
  66. ^ resmethrin
  67. ^ Resmethrin Technical Fact Sheet - National Pesticide Information Center
  68. ^ Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids Fact Sheet - National Pesticide Information Center
  69. ^ Resmethrin Pesticide Information Profile - Extension Toxicology Network
  70. ^ MSDS for Scourge' Formula II
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  76. ^
  77. ^ [15]
  78. ^ Protecting Bees When Using Insecticides Archived 2005-02-08 at the Wayback Machine University of Nebraska Lincoln, Extension, May 1998
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External links[edit]