An effort to prevent Zika-infected mosquitoes from taking root in South Carolina has dealt a major blow to the local honey bee population. Bees died in massive numbers after officials in Dorchester County approved the spraying of Naled, a common insecticide that kills mosquitoes on contact, over the countryside.
Trucks spraying pesticides are not an uncommon sight in the state, thanks in large part to a successful mosquito-control program that includes destroying larvae. Given the urgency surrounding the Zika virus, however, county officials decided to––for the very first time––spray Naled from the air. Spraying Naled from the air is not unprecedented according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which noted that officials in Florida fumigated more than 6 million acres with the chemical. The agency argued earlier this year that the practice would curb the possibility of Zika infections in Puerto Rico.
Effects of the spray were felt by the bees almost instantly.
In one case, a single apiary in Summerville lost 46 hives, destroying about 2.5 million bees in the process. Residents described clumps upon clumps of dead bees littering the farms, with one beekeeper saying her apiary “looks like it’s been nuked.” Writing on Facebook, another farmer wrote, it “was visiting a cemetery, pure sadness.”
The danger of Naled to local bee populations has been previously documented by Cornell University researchers as early as 23 years ago, who wrote “Naled is highly toxic to bees” in the study. The mass killing of bees can cause potentially irreparable harm to the food supply. As University of Minnesota entomology professor Marla Spivak wrote for CNN, 71 of the 100 crops that make up 90 percent of the global food supply depend on bees to survive.
Counties fighting Zika usually spray pesticides at night, when bees are sleeping in their hives and not pollenating. However, Dorchester County sprayed Naled between 6:30 and 8:30 on a particularly hot day, when bees tend to exit the hive to cool off in a cluster called a “beard.” Bee farmers say that particular spraying is what killed off their bee supply.
Sadly, this incident comes at time when bee populations are struggling around the world. In recent years, experts and beekeepers have observed dramatic decreases in their numbers. This is a serious problem given that about 75 percent of the crop species around the world need to be pollinated in order to grow seeds and reproduce. Bees aren’t the only pollinators, but they pollinate the majority of crops. No one’s entirely sure why bees are on the decline, though pesticides have been implicated as a major cause.
Action group The Other 98% has launched a petition calling on cities to stop using bee-killing pesticides to fight Zika. Click here to sign.