Beetle pesticide raises a new buzz Beekeepers worry about effect on their hives

Monday, October 6, 2008
By Bradford L. Miner TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFFbminer@telegram.com
LEICESTER The injection of the pesticide imidacloprid into healthy maples near those infested by the Asian longhorned beetle may be welcome news to shade tree lovers, but Worcester beekeepers are worried and some are planning on moving their hives from “ground zero.” At a meeting Saturday of the Worcester County Beekeepers Association, Jeffrey S. Pettis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service was fielding questions on Nosema cerenae, one of the more common bee diseases, when one member asked about the impact of the pesticide being used in Worcester. Several cited reports from beekeepers in Europe, particularly in France, suggesting that the pesticide imidacloprid contributed to a significant decline in bee populations.Click here to find out more!

Mr. Pettis was asked about research and whether studies would be warranted of hives in Worcester, where the pesticide would be injected into maple trees. Such studies would look at mortality rates in hives near the city and in control hives a significant distance from the city. It was suggested that in the spring, honeybees would be drawn to the pollen of pesticide-injected Norway maples. Some cited research that when imidacloprid was used as a seed coating for sunflowers, honeybees developed behavioral problems. Several Worcester beekeepers said they would plan on moving their hives outside of the area being treated for the Asian longhorned beetle. What impact that would have on pollination in the city remains to be seen. Mary Duane of Worcester, president of the association, said she was thrilled with the turnout for the daylong program at the Knights of Columbus hall, which featured Mr. Pettis, who heads up the USDA’s bee lab in Beltsville, Md., and Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine. “We’re very fortunate in that Colony Collapse Disease has not hit us in Worcester County; however, Nosema cerenae and other viruses and pathogens are not uncommon to beekeepers throughout the region,” Ms. Duane said. Club members are primarily hobbyists, Ms. Duane said, but the association makes every effort to keep members informed of not only local developments, but cutting-edge research being done by Mr. Pettis and others at the bee lab as well as at universities across the country. “What was once a hobby of having bees has evolved into bee management. Just ask Ken,” she said, acknowledging Kenneth M. Warchol of Northbridge, one of three state apiary inspectors and a member of the association. Ms. Duane said many people don’t realize just how crucial bees are to the Massachusetts agricultural economy, as well as the backyard garden, in their role as nature’s pollinators. “Some of our club members may have upwards of 50 to 100 hives and are harvesting the honey for an income. Many of us are just fascinated by the bees; we enjoy beekeeping, and the benefits of having bees for our own pollination needs,” she said. The association president said the hives of association members are widespread throughout Central Massachusetts, with very few people cognizant of the fact. “Whenever possible, our goal is to educate not only our members but the public as well as to the vital importance of the honeybee to Central Massachusetts,” she said. Mr. Pettis said whether it’s Colony Collapse Disorder or parasites or pathogens, researchers have made great strides with “pieces of the puzzle,” but don’t yet have the big picture. During his presentation, he cited examples of experiments that were successful in the lab, but could not yet be successfully transferred to an entire bee colony. “Right now, we’re recommending that beekeepers control their hives with the best methods available to them,” Mr. Pettis said, admitting to the members present that because of time constraints his unintentional hands-off management of his own hives had resulted in survival of the fittest. “We don’t have right now an ironclad set of recommendations that we can provide hobbyists or commercial beekeepers to prevent Colony Collapse Disorder, or limiting the impact of the bee gut parasite Nosema cerenae,” he said. That particular parasite shortens the worker bees’ life span and makes them less productive, he said, noting that different methods of dealing with the parasite had yielded different measures of success. On the positive side, Mr. Pettis said, honeybees are very resilient, beekeepers on the whole are very resourceful, and researchers are continuing to make advances with research in the lab. He said he had just learned two weeks ago that maples in Worcester would be injected with the systemic insecticide imidacloprid to vaccinate the tree against Asian longhorned beetle larvae and while USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said there’s “reason for concern” among beekeepers, the degree of concern has not yet been determined. Mr. Warchol said he had inspected the hives of 48 beekeepers within the area affected by the beetle and everyone is concerned about the impact on the bees, the hives and the honey that’s produced. “They want to know if the imidacloprid is going to show up in their honey,” Mr. Warchol said. He said the state Department of Agricultural Resources is aware of the beekeepers’ concerns and would conduct baseline studies to help determine any impact. Mr. Warchol said that given the five-year timeline for battling the longhorned Asian beetle infestation, beekeepers are wondering if the impact of the imidacloprid will be cumulative. “Is this the tip of the iceberg, or over time will this insecticide preventing the spread of the beetle spell trouble for honeybees?” he asked. The Worcester County Beekeepers Association is the country’s oldest association of hobbyist beekeepers, established in 1900 and with 400 members today, Ms. Duane said.

So what happened in the end?

Does anyone know what the ultimate effects of the 2009 Worcester County imidacloprid treatment was? To what extent did it stop the beetle? To what extent did it hurt bees and taint honey?