Could bees be addicted to pesticides that may harm them?

Could bees be addicted to pesticides that may harm them?

Posted on

New research has suggested that bees could be 'addicted' to a group of pesticides that may be harming them.

In 2013, a two-year ban was imposed by the EU on three neonicotinoid pesticides for use on flowering crops amid concerns that they could be negatively affecting British bee populations.

Now, a study at Newcastle University (published in the journal Nature) has found that because the pesticides contain synthetic chemicals similar to nicotine, they could be creating a 'high' in the insects' brains akin to that experienced by smokers.

Neuroscientists in the research team tested whether or not honeybees and bumblebees were drawn to a sugar solution containing neonicotinoids over untreated food in laboratory conditions.

They found that the bees were highly attracted to two of three neonicotinoid pesticides - imidacloprid and thiamethoxam - compared to the sugar solutions without them.

Lead researcher Professor Geraldine Wright said this may mean that the chemicals act like a drug targeting bees' brains, which effectively means they are being drawn to harmful doses of pesticides that could kill them.

"As soon as it gets into their blood they're getting a little buzz, as it were, and they're responding to that ... We don't have any evidence that it's addictive, but it could be," she added.

Further research will now take place to determine if bees can indeed become addicted to neonicotinoids.

Meanwhile, scientists at Lund University in Sweden have carried out 'real world' testing on neonicotinoids and their effects on bees and discovered that wild populations halved in fields that had been treated with them, with colony growth stopping and queen production significantly reduced.

A spokesperson from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the EU will continue to review its evidence on the effects of these pesticides on bees, with restrictions remaining in place in the meantime.

There are around 250 species of bee in the UK, including 24 types of bumblebee and 225 varieties of solitary bee. Unfortunately, most have declined significantly in recent years and two have become extinct since 1940.