Bee kills from pesticide treatments are not new. What is new is a rational fear of the Zika virus and the rapid growth in commercial mosquito abatement franchises that feed on that fear. Many of these companies spray and fog at all hours of the day, in all wind conditions, and use pesticides that are highly toxic to honey bees and other beneficial insects and aquatic life.
To reverse this trend, beekeepers need to communicate to neighbors and elected representatives that there are better ways to fight Zika than the scorched earth policy of indiscriminate fogging and aerial sprays. Zika is a scary virus that causes birth defects. Any attempt to minimize that threat may end any productive dialog with a neighbor. Instead, beekeepers need to become better communicators, better entomologists, and better pesticide experts than the guy that drives a mosquito control panel truck.
Failing to take an active role in mosquito control education means abdicating that role to mosquito control companies that are disinclined to protect honey bees, beneficial insects, and aquatic life. Lacking better information, more households will sign abatement contracts with pest and mosquito control companies. There will be more drift of deadly pyrethrin clouds and more heartrending bee kills.
Knowledge is our weapon. Share it with your neighbors. It wouldn't hurt to also share a bottle of local, pesticide-free honey as well.
Zika virus is a flavivirus, related to yellow fever, West Nile, and dengue. There are no vaccines to prevent Zika or medicine to treat the infection. Zika is transmitted primarily by Aedes species mosquitoes that bite during the day and night. Infection during pregnancy can cause congenital brain abnormalities, including microcephaly to the unborn child.
Yes and no. As of March 2, 2017, there are 116 confirmed travel-related cases of Zika in Georgia. These are cases of people returning to Georgia after having contracting the virus outside of the state. There has never been a case of locally‐transmitted Zika virus reported in Georgia as of August 2016. Local transmission means that local mosquitoes have been infected with the virus and are spreading it to people in the area.
Zika is transmitted mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus). The Asian Tiger mosquito (Ae. Albopictus) is found throughout the state and bites during the day. Zika is also potentially spread by humans through sexual activity, blood transfusion, and from a mother to her unborn fetus.
Since there are currently no cures or vaccines for Zika, it is important to avoid Zika:
Some homeowners (and mosquito control companies) are going to spray. Period. We are all better off if applicators are knowledgeable in the correct way to select and apply insecticide.
Every time a news story covers the Zika, West Nile or some other mosquito-borne virus in the US, phones start ringing at pest and mosquito control companies. In the mind of most homeowners, calling a mosquito control company is the most rational response. A panel truck shows up - at any hour of the 9-5 work day - and workers starts fogging the yard with pyrethrins. If the company is lucky, they will sign a recurring contract that guarantees multiple visits.
Pyrethrins are relatively safe to vertebrates but deadly to invertebrates such as honey bees, native pollinators, and dragonflies (that eat both mosquito larvae and mosquitos). A cloud of pyrethrin can drift into an apiary or - if sprayed on flowers - toxic nectar and pollen can be carried back to the hive.
Bee kills are difficult to prevent unless you have neighbors that are educated in alternatives to fogging and are willing to work with you and inform you of sprayings.
In the summer of 2016, I lost all my hives to single pesticide event. In the Spring 2017, I assembled the following into a gift bag and gave it to each of my five nearest neighbors.
The response from my neighbors has been very positive. They are now armed with knowledge and have a vested interest in protecting beneficial insects.
Tom Rearick, MABA member & Master Beekeeper
If you know that a spraying is going to occur, you must protect your bees from drift and from flowers and water that were sprayed.
If I knew that flowers in full bloom were being sprayed and my hives were not downwind, I would immediately dump honey into a pan and set it out in the apiary. The bees would find it and prefer it to other potentially toxic nectar sources. Open feeding is usually a bad idea because of the possible transfer of disease but that risk is much smaller than a known pesticide spray. This approach might work for a day in a small apiary but that may be all you need because many pesticides break down in sun and air. At any rate, the pesticide is less potent after 24 hours. Diluting the honey with water might make it last a little longer. If you lack the honey, you could make a cane sugar syrup.
If a colony has lost most of its foragers but is stable after a day and still has plenty of honey and pollen, it has a good chance of surviving on its own. Move the surviving hive to a less toxic location with clean forage if possible. If you cannot move the hive or if there is insufficient forage, provide honey or sugar syrup. Provide clean water. The queen may stop laying for awhile but should resume. If she does not resume laying in a week or so, replace her.
However, if bees continue to die, there is most likely toxic pollen and nectar in the hive. The bees will continue to die until they are separated from the now toxic pollen and nectar. Shaking bees into a clean hive followed by a feeding may save them. Wax foundation that has absorbed pesticide cannot be rinsed out - it should be destroyed.
The experience of finding your bees dead in piles is devastating. One tempting response is to withdraw from a hobby that causes such a painful experience. Another response is to recognize that - as stewards of our environment - much work remains to be done and that couragous individuals can make a difference.
Before there can be any legislation to protect honey bees, there must be evidence that bee kills occur with enough regularity to enact legislation in the first place. That is why beekeepers should report all bee kills at state and federal levels.
In the state of Georgia, report bee kills to Nancy Hall at the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Phone is 404-656-7371 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The email address for the Environmental Protection Agency is email@example.com. The Honey Bee Health Coalition Quick Guide to Reporting a Bee Kill Incident is available to help beekeepers report an incident to the State, the EPA, and pesticide manufacturers as well as how to obtain non-governmental help.