Tangled Webs: The Casualties of Good Intentions

Are there common threads of cause between the altered behavior of bees and of bats to account for their recent colony disorders? Something is changing their chemistry, altering their behavior, making them act in ways that are killing them.

So many possible issues could be involved, not the least of which is the chemical environment we have imposed on finely-tuned biological systems. Agriculture and commerce have altered the biochemical commons–soil,  air and water –that bees and bats, birds and babies grow from.

No, there are not sinister agents secretly at work to poison us. More often than not, we (our government, corporations, farmers and average home owners) are just ignorant of the facts, or the facts simply are not in before we launch into widespread use of some “solution” that in the end, produces its own residual problems. There may also be at times some small financial incentive at work, perhaps. Umm…

Could it be that the diseases of honeybees and hemlocks are in some way related? It turns out that the chemical treatment of choice for Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA) is Merit, one of the neonicitinoid pesticides (imidacloprid). And imidaclorprid is very, very hard on honeybees.

Some of this poison ends up in soil from Eastern Hemlock treatments, and then  if successfully targeted, in the sap and tissues of the treated trees. But honeybees don’t likely suffer so much from that source of Merit as from treatment of seeds and crops with the neonicitinoid pesticides.

“Imidacloprid is very widely used in growing much of the produce we eat. It is sprayed on many, many of the vegetables most of us buy at the grocery store. The problem for the bees is that the produce farmers spray imidacloprid throughout their entire crop to control pests and then bring in bees to pollinate their plants. The bees inevitably come in contact with the imidacloprid by physically touching it on the plants they are pollinating,” wrote Franks.

“Although the odd bee certainly happens upon the odd hemlock now and again, these chance occurrences are a drop in the bucket compared to the massive and widespread use of imidacloprid and bees in agriculture today. If there is a link between imidacloprid and CCD, it should be attributed to the venue where these two elements have been intentionally brought together on a gigantic scale–produce farms.”

If you care about hemlocks, bees,  bats  or babies this is highly recommended reading:

The Battle To Save The Hemlocks / Part Five:  Are Nicotine-Based Insecticides Responsible for Every Occurrence of Colony Collapse Disorder?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. According to CNN in a report they did on Haagen-Dazs (which is owned by Nestle), 1/3 of this country’s food supply is dependent on bees. Think about that. Most of the fruit, vegetables, and nuts we consume require pollination. How long can we continue to sit on our collective asses and pretend we’re not on the brink of disaster?

  2. Coincidence, maybe–doubtful, though, but for a few days after I apply flea medication to my dog menagerie, I find dead bees on my back deck. I’ve remarked same to an entomology aquaintance and got pooh-poohed. I think they must be attracted to the urine, maybe? Imidicloprid and fipronil. Maybe fipronil more.