There’s a new insecticide on the block, and it’s also bad news for bees

Enlarge / A foraging bee. (credit: Nunzio_Zotti / Flickr)

We need bees to pollinate the plants that feed us. And bees need us to stop inadvertently poisoning them with the insecticides we use to keep those plants healthy. Unfortunately, just as we start to make progress on reducing the worldwide use of neonicotinoids (a class of insecticides that are toxic to bees), it seems like we might be at risk of rolling out an alternative insecticide that causes similar problems.

“Sulfoximine-based insecticides are the most likely successor [to neonicotinoids]” write the University of London’s Harry Siviter and his colleagues in a paper published in Nature this week. And that’s not great, as they found that bumblebee colonies exposed to a sulfoximine-based insecticide called sulfoxaflor suffered severe effects compared to a control colony. The insecticide didn’t kill the bees, but it damaged their ability to run a successful colony—a similar effect to neonicotinoids.

Contamination

When insecticides are sprayed on crops, they settle not just on the crops themselves but also nearby wildflowers. Crops grown from insecticide-treated seeds also result in contaminated dust, soil, and pollen. This all exposes foraging bumblebees to the insecticide and also means that contaminated pollen and nectar make their way back to the bee colony, where larvae are exposed.

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There’s a new insecticide on the block, and it’s also bad news for bees