Bees: Collateral Damage in the Fight Against Zika

More than two million honeybees were killed earlier this week after being sprayed by a pesticide intended to wipe out mosquitoes, including ones causing the Zika virus.

An official in Dorchester County, S.C., where the spraying occurred, said it was “a mistake,” according to an article in The New York Times on September 2.

A mistake? Apparently a county official had failed to “follow the local government’s standard procedure of notifying registered beekeepers about the deployment of pesticides,” the Times wrote.

One of those registered beekeepers found the dead honeybees shortly after the spraying when she went into her apiary and noticed that the usual hum of activity had gone totally silent.

Dorchester County recently reported four travel-related cases of Zika in the area, according to the Times, which caused officials to decide on aerial spraying using a mosquito-eradication pesticide called naled. Naled is said to kill not only honeybees, but other pollinators as well.

The website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that while naled “does pose some risk to aquatic invertebrates (such as shrimp and water fleas) and terrestrial wildlife, it dissipates rapidly and does not persist in the environment…” However, the site also suggests that “applications made between dusk and dawn, while bees are not typically foraging, can reduce exposure to honey bees.”

Only if you are told by your local government that the “application” is about to occur.

Clearly the need to fight the Zika virus should be high on everyone’s list, but it’s equally clear that we should be taking every precaution to limit the collateral damage caused by pesticides. Two million honeybees can’t exactly be replaced overnight.

I don’t think Colony Collapse Disorder – with all its still unknown causes – is yet on enough people’s radar screens. This most recent catastrophe is just one example. As Juanita Stanley, owner of the stricken apiary, noted to the Times: “One word is very fitting. It’s ignorance. We, as humans, are not doing the research and finding out the facts before we make decisions.”


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