Culprit Found For Honeybee Deaths In California Almond Groves

PHYS.ORG   By Misti Crane     February 4, 2019

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

It's about time for the annual mass migration of honeybees to California, and new research is helping lower the chances the pollinators and their offspring will die while they're visiting the West Coast.

Each winter, professional beekeepers from around the nation stack hive upon hive on trucks destined for the Golden State, where February coaxes forward the sweet-smelling, pink and white blossoms of the Central Valley's almond trees.

Almond growers rent upwards of 1.5 million colonies of honeybees a year, at a cost of around $300 million. Without the bees, there would be no almonds, and there are nowhere near enough native bees to take up the task of pollinating the trees responsible for more than 80 percent of the world's almonds. The trouble was, bees and larvae were dying while in California, and nobody was sure exactly why. The problem started in adults only, and beekeepers were most worried about loss of queens.

Then in 2014, about 80,000 colonies—about 5 percent of bees brought in for pollination—experienced adult bee deaths or a dead and deformed brood. Some entire colonies died.

With support from the Almond Board of California, an industry service agency, bee expert Reed Johnson of The Ohio State University took up the task of figuring out what was happening. Results from his earlier research had shown that some insecticides thought safe for bees were impacting larvae. Building on that, Johnson undertook a new study, newly published in the journal Insects, that details how combinations of insecticides and fungicides typically deemed individually "safe" for honeybees turn into lethal cocktails when mixed.

Johnson, an associate professor of entomology, and his study co-authors were able to identify the chemicals commonly used in the almond groves during bloom because of California's robust and detailed system for tracking pesticide applications. Then, in a laboratory in Ohio, they tested combinations of these chemicals on honeybees and larvae.

In the most extreme cases, combinations decreased the survival of larvae by more than 60 percent when compared to a control group of larvae unexposed to fungicides and insecticides.

"Fungicides, often needed for crop protection, are routinely used during almond bloom, but in many cases growers were also adding insecticides to the mix. Our research shows that some combinations are deadly to the bees, and the simplest thing is to just take the insecticide out of the equation during almond bloom," he said.

"It just doesn't make any sense to use an insecticide when you have 80 percent of the nation's honeybees sitting there exposed to it."

The recommendation is already catching on and has been promoted through a wide array of presentations by almond industry leaders, beekeepers and other experts and has been included in the Almond Board's honeybee management practices. Many almond growers are rethinking their previous practices and are backing off insecticide use during almond bloom, Johnson said.

That's good news for bees, and doesn't appear to be harming the crops either, he said, because there are better opportunities to control problematic insects when almonds are not in bloom.

"I was surprised—even the experts in California were surprised—that they were using insecticides during pollination," Johnson said.

While these products were considered "bee-safe," that was based on tests with adult bees that hadn't looked into the impact they had on larvae.

"I think it was a situation where it wasn't disallowed. The products were thought to be bee-safe and you've got to spray a fungicide during bloom anyway, so why not put an insecticide in the tank, too?"

Insecticides are fairly inexpensive, but the process of spraying is labor-intensive, so growers choosing to double up may have been looking to maximize their investment, he said.

"The thing is, growers were using these insecticides to control a damaging insect—the peach twig borer—during this period, but they have other opportunities to do that before the bees enter the almond orchards or after they are gone," Johnson said.

This research could open the door to more study of fungicide and pesticide use on other bee-dependent crops, including pumpkins and cucumbers, Johnson said.

Explore further: Almond-crop fungicides a threat to honey bees

More information: Andrea Wade et al, Combined Toxicity of Insecticides and Fungicides Applied to California Almond Orchards to Honey Bee Larvae and Adults, Insects (2019). DOI: 10.3390/insects10010020

Provided by: The Ohio State University

After Massive Bee Kill, Beekeepers Want Answers From Fresno County

Capital Public Radio / News     By Julia Metric    May 16, 2017

Dead bees in Reedley, CA from colonies belonging to Rafael Reynaga. (Photo courtesy of Rafael Reynaga.) 

The Beekeeper

When Rafael Reynaga came to check on his bee colonies in a Fresno almond orchard, he found a carpet full of dead bees on the ground.

Reynaga picked up a hive and found two inches of bees at the bottom. He says most were dead, but a few were still moving.

Dead bees reek, Reynaga says, like a dead rat.

He's been working with bees since the 1980s but he says he'd never experienced a bee kill firsthand until this February.

He'd lent two hundred hives to his brother, fellow beekeeper Raul Reynaga. The latter had a pollination contract with an almond grower in Reedley on the east side of Fresno. 

He suspects his honeybees died from pesticide exposure.

“The bees act in a specific way when they are poisoned,” adds Reynaga. “They fly in circles close to the ground.”

Apiarist Rafael Reynaga checks bee colonies in Tulare County

To Reynaga these bee deaths point to a pesticide spray to blooming crops. But he says his hives went in before the almond bloom. The closest blooming crop were nectarines.

Reynaga filed a "Report of Loss” with the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s office. He says it’s a big hit to his business - a $100,000 loss.

Protecting The Bees

Almond pollination is the busiest time of year for California’s commercial beekeepers. They scramble around the state as they move their colonies into orchards just ahead of the bloom.

Gene Brandi is president of the American Beekeeping Federation and a longtime beekeeper from Madera.

Brandi says he works with fifteen different growers across the state during pollination. It’s a logistical feat to move thousands of hives into place just before almond bloom while weather changes hour by hour. Keeping the bees healthy and safe is a huge priority.

During pollination, some beekeepers rely on a notification system to find out about pesticide applications close to their hives.

Here’s how the notification system works in Fresno County. Beekeepers can register the location of hives as they place them for pollination. It’s voluntary. The county pins those locations to a digital bee map.

This interactive map shows approximate bee locations in Fresno County. (Credit: County of Fresno)

Growers, or the pesticide applicators they work with, must file a "Notice of Intent" with the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner if they plan to apply anything toxic to bees according to the label. 

The county has 16 hours to check the spray location against the bee map and reply to the grower (or pesticide applicator) with contact details for anyone with registered hives within a one mile radius.

The last step: the grower (or pesticide applicator) is required to message registered beekeepers with a heads-up 48 hours ahead of the spray application.

Some beekeepers choose to register their hives and receive notification, but many do not, according to the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner's office. They say several beekeepers in the bee kill areas were not registered for February pollination.

Gene Brandi says he registers his hives with the county. It’s a valuable source of information.

But here’s the catch. Brandi says the notification system is not the main safeguard in protecting honeybees from pesticide exposure.

It’s the label.

The Label Is The Law

Just because a beekeeper gets a phone or email notification about a pesticide application does not mean they’ll move their bees out, explains Gene Brandi.

The bees are in the almond orchards to do a job - pollination. “We can’t move them out until it’s done,” says Brandi.

In California, protection for honey bees comes in the form of bee warnings on specific pesticide labels.  Carzol SP insecticide bee warning label

The label is the law. That means regardless of where hives are registered, growers (and pesticide applicators on staff) are required to follow the label’s language.

Brandi is confident growers, pesticide applicators, beekeepers and county ag officials all understand following the label to mean: only apply these pesticides at night, when honey bees are not working.

Brandi is counting on the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner to get to the bottom of what caused the bee kills in February. Regardless of the cause, he says, “This shouldn’t have happened.”

For Brandi, seeing pictures of Reynaga’s dead bees from Reedley brought back unwelcome memories of a bee kill his brother experienced decades ago.

“You can see it’s more than a claim,” says Brandi.

“It’s losses they have experienced. It’s real. And it’s a major negative economic impact on their businesses and on the growers, too. The growers are paying for good bees and they got these dead ones that aren’t going to pollinate one nut.”

Brandi says it’s key for the entire agriculture community to follow best practices so bees are protected while crops get treated.

The Almond Board of California adopted best management practices in 2014. Those include not applying insecticides during bloom and ensuring fungicides are applied late in the day and into the evening when bees are not out collecting pollen.

“Many growers have adopted these practices, but there are still quite a few that have not. They don’t have to. It’s strictly advisory,” explains Brandi.

Earlier this spring Brandi had a meeting at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC. Brandi urged them to take a closer look at the impact of popular tank mixes on the health of honey bee colonies and consider bee warning labels for them.

(A tank mix is a cocktail of pesticides in single tank.) 

"After all, tank mixes are what our bees 'see' in the field, not just individual pesticides," says Brandi. 

Brandi argues that even if a tank mix doesn't kill adult bees outright, it may impact the brood and hurt the bee colony longterm. 

According to Brandi, the acting head of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs said the agency would look into tank mixes later this year.

The Investigation

There were several clusters of bee kills in Fresno this winter. They happened on the east side of Fresno County in Sanger and Reedley, where Rafael Reynaga’s colonies were.

The other area is Kerman, on the west side of the county, where loss reports from several beekeepers total in the ballpark of $2 million.

Tom Ullmann works for the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s office and he’s investigating the Kerman incident. On a tour of the Kerman area, he points out one spot where honeybee colonies got hit, between two vast almond orchards.

Tom Ullmann works for the Fresno County Department of Agriculture

The county collected bee bodies and swabs from outside the hives at this site and sent them to a lab at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation

As part of the investigation, Ullmann’s examined pesticide use reports in Kerman for the days leading up to the bee kill.

“So far, there’s nothing we’ve found that has been done that is in violation of any regulatory requirements according to the label,” says Ullmann.

In other words, pesticide applications were reportedly completed by midnight.

But the preliminary finding leaves bee broker Joe Traynor doubtful.

“I can’t totally blame the county,” Traynor says, “but they depend on use reports and those are only as good as the honesty of the guy that signs them, saying what he put on and what time of day he put it on. Anybody can fudge a use report.”

Traynor’s been wrangling bees for 50 years.

Think of the bee broker as the middleman for pollination. They gather bee hives from various beekeepers to fill contracts with growers. The bee broker gets a cut from both parties.

Traynor was the one who brought Rafael Reynaga’s hives to Reedley. Bee colonies Traynor put in Kerman also got hit. And, he says, bees he placed for pollination in Sanger orchards were hit even worse.

 Bee broker Joe Traynor, left, and beekeeper Rafael Reynaga in Tulare County.

To Traynor, the volume of dead bees and their location suggest exposure to a pesticide – the kind with a bee warning on the label. He suspects a spray was applied into the early morning hours.

Stace Leoni is Fresno County Deputy Agricultural Commissioner and she’s leading the bee kill investigation.

Leoni concedes that pesticide use reports, filed after the application occurs, rely on an honor system. But she doesn’t find it credible that pesticide applicators would intentionally break the rules.

“Why would you want to spend money on a product and apply it if it wasn’t going to work? Or do it at the wrong time or use too much?” asks Leoni.

In his search for answers, Traynor’s focused on the timing of the bee kill and what was going on nearby. He placed the hives in almond orchards before bloom, so there was no forage.

“But bees will visit nearby orchards up to two or three miles away to find bloom,” Traynor explains. He points to nearby blooming nectarines.

The county’s bee lab results are not yet available. But USDA lab reports show several insecticides in bee bodies and bee pollen from Kerman. One of them is Carzol. It’s commonly used by nectarine growers to control an insect called thrips. 

In both bee kill areas there are nectarines within three miles of almonds.

Leoni says the county’s preliminary finding is that a Carzol application to nearby nectarines was completed by midnight.

The county has come under vocal criticism from bee brokers, including Traynor, who say the county must do more to enforce night-time sprays for pesticides with bee warning labels.

“A lot of statements are being made that we don't care or that we're not turning over every stone to figure this out. That’s just not true,” Leoni says.

Leoni insists the county is looking into every possible cause of the February bee deaths. And she says the investigation takes time.

“We're doing the very best we can do because we don't want it to happen again,” explains Leoni.

“But we don't go out in the beginning with accusations. We ask questions. The whole point is to stay objective and try to figure out what happened.”

Leoni says it’s too early to say what lessons could come out of the bee kill. But she concedes that “some materials that are registered may need to be looked at again as far as their toxicity to bees.”

“It could be that the window (for spraying) has to be even shorter in the evening, that you have to finish six hours before the next time bees actively visit. Or maybe a lower dosage. I don’t know,” Leoni says.

Regenerating The Bee Colonies

Rafael Reynaga stands on a grassy mound nestled along the Fresno foothills. The fragrance of citrus blossom filters through the air. 

Citrus trees in Fresno County

This idyllic bee yard is where he brought his hives after the bee kill in Reedley. 

Reynaga cleaned out the stricken hives with bleach to remove possible contamination from dead bee bodies. Then he added brood from healthy colonies and a queen cell for each colony.

He put the bee boxes in their own spot where there’s plenty of forage from citrus bloom. It's like a bee sanctuary.

“I put them where they can thrive. Now, only time will tell,” says Reynaga as he looks out over the hives.

“I’m not going to make honey with these bees – they are just recovering. But at least I can rebuild the hive and put this thing behind me.”

Reynaga doubts he’ll put his bees in the Fresno County bee kill areas for almond pollination next year. “Even if I don’t put bees there again, I want this to stop,” says Reynaga.

“Because in the future, I don’t want this to happen to anybody else or me, down the road, in another place.”

At least six different beekeepers (or bee brokers) claimed losses of an estimated 8,000 bee hives in Fresno County.

Despite what happened in February, you can see from the green fuzzy nuts on almond trees that Fresno’s almond orchards were pollinated.

The county investigation is ongoing. It could be six months to a year before they issue a final report. 

Green nuts on almond trees in Fresno County



Common Pesticide Hampers Honey Bee's Ability to Fly

A honey bee (Apis mellifera) is harnessed for study on a flight mill in biology professor James Nieh’s laboratory, UC San Diego. – Credit: Simone Tosi

A honey bee (Apis mellifera) is harnessed for study on a flight mill in biology professor James Nieh’s laboratory, UC San Diego. – Credit: Simone Tosi

A honey bee (Apis mellifera) is harnessed for study on a flight mill in biology professor James Nieh's laboratory, UC San Diego. Credit: Simone Tosi

Biologists at the University of California San Diego have demonstrated for the first time that a widely used pesticide can significantly impair the ability of otherwise healthy honey bees to fly, raising concerns about how pesticides affect their capacity to pollinate and the long-term effects on the health of honey bee colonies.

Previous research has shown that foraging honey bees that ingested neonicotinoid pesticides, crop insecticides that are commonly used in agriculture, were less likely to return to their home nest, leading to a decrease in foragers.

A study published April 26 in Scientific Reports by UC San Diego postdoctoral researcher Simone Tosi, Biology Professor James Nieh, along with Associate Professor Giovanni Burgio of the University of Bologna, Italy, describes in detail how the neonicotinoid pesticide thiamethoxam damages honey bees. Thiamethoxam is used in crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton. To test the hypothesis that the pesticide impairs flight ability, the researchers designed and constructed a flight mill (a bee flight-testing instrument) from scratch. This allowed them to fly bees under consistent and controlled conditions.

Months of testing and data acquisition revealed that typical levels of neonicotinoid exposure, which bees could experience when foraging on agricultural crops—but below lethal levels—resulted in substantial damage to the honey bee's ability to fly.

"Our results provide the first demonstration that field-realistic exposure to this pesticide alone, in otherwise healthy colonies, can alter the ability of bees to fly, specifically impairing flight distance, duration and velocity" said Tosi. "Honey bee survival depends on its ability to fly, because that's the only way they can collect food. Their flight ability is also crucial to guarantee crop and wild plant pollination."

Long-term exposure to the pesticide over one to two days reduced the ability of bees to fly. Short-term exposure briefly increased their activity levels. Bees flew farther, but based upon other studies, more erratically.

"Bees that fly more erratically for greater distances may decrease their probability of returning home," said Nieh, a professor in UC San Diego's Division of Biological Sciences.

This pesticide does not normally kill bees immediately. It has a more subtle effect, said Nieh.

"The honey bee is a highly social organism, so the behavior of thousands of bees are essential for the survival of the colony," said Nieh." We've shown that a sub-lethal dose may lead to a lethal effect on the entire colony."

Honey bees carry out fundamentally vital roles in nature by providing essential ecosystem functions, including global pollination of crops and native plants. Declines in managed honey bee populations have raised concerns about future impacts on the environment, food security and human welfare.

Neonicotinoid insecticides are neurotoxic and used around the world on broad varieties of crops, including common fruits and vegetables, through spray, soil and seed applications. Evidence of these insecticides has been found in the nectar, pollen and water that honey bees collect.

"People are concerned about honey bees and their health being impaired because they are so closely tied to human diet and nutrition," said Nieh. "Some of the most nutritious foods that we need to consume as humans are bee-pollinated."

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Protecting Bees: OSU Smartphone App

CATCH THE BUZZ - Bee Culture    November 26, 2016

Protecting bees from pesticides just got easier with the rlease by Oregon State University of a Smartphone App

“It’s a smartphone world,” said the publication’s lead author, Ramesh Sagili.

Protecting bees from pesticides just got easier with the release by Oregon State University of a smartphone app that farmers and beekeepers can use to consult a publication when they’re out in the field. The smartphone app accompanies OSU Extension’s 2013 publication, “How to Reduce Bee Poisoning from Pesticides.”

Farmers and beekeepers can now remotely consult the publication’s pesticide tables on their phones or tablets. The popular guide lists 150 insecticides, fungicides, miticides, slug killers and growth disruptors—all of them now searchable by trade name or chemical name in the new app.

“It’s a smartphone world,” said the publication’s lead author, Ramesh Sagili, an entomologist and Extension bee researcher in Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

“Our stakeholders have been asking for an app to go along with this publication, and they’re very excited that we now have one.”

“How to Reduce Bee Poisoning” was first published in 2006. It was expanded in 2013 by coauthor Louisa Hooven, a toxicologist and bee expert in the College of Agricultural Sciences, with an extensive update of the pesticide information.

“We looked at the crops grown in the Northwest,” she said, “and then at all the products that are likely to be used when the crop is flowering—which is when the bees will be foraging. Those were the pesticides we included.”

Products are sorted into three classes: highly toxic, toxic and “no bee precautionary statement on label.” The ratings are based on the cautions and restrictions required by the Environmental Protection Agency and listed on the products’ labels, Hooven said.

In addition, the guide estimates “residual toxicity” for several of the products—that is, how long their harmful effects persist in the environment. That information, which is not required by the EPA and may or may not be on the label, came from Hooven’s extensive search through EPA risk assessment documents and the toxicology literature.

“There was some information on residual toxicity in the previous edition,” she said. “We expanded the number of products quite a lot, so we included residual toxicity information for those products for which that’s known, and we updated the information for the products already listed.”

The guide recommends best practices for managing pesticide applications to protect all bee species—not only honey bees (Apis mellifera), but mason bees (Osmia lignaria), alkali bees (Nomia melanderi) and alfalfa leafcutting bees (Megachile rotundata). These bee species are also managed as agricultural pollinators.

It also tells how to protect native ground-dwelling species such as squash bees, long-horned bees, sweat bees, mining bees and bumblebees.

“Pesticides will affect these species differently than honey bees or other managed species,” said Hooven, “because they have different life habits and are present at different times.”

West Coast agriculture is critically dependent on pollinating insects, said Sagili, who has authored or coauthored four other Extension publications on honey bees.

“Crops in the Midwest, such as corn and soybeans, don’t require insects for pollination,” he said. “But with our diversity of crops, especially our fruit trees, berries and seed crops, we really need them.”

Oregon beekeepers manage about 70,000 commercial honey bee hives, he said. The bees pollinate about 50 Oregon crops, including blueberries, cherries, pears, apples, clover, meadowfoam and vegetable seed. Sagili estimates the value of these crops at more than half a billion dollars yearly.

The best protection for bees, he said, starts with good communication between grower and beekeeper.

“Pesticide use and bee protection are not mutually exclusive,” he said. “There’s a balanced way to control pests and protect bees, both. We want this guide to be a useful tool for growers and beekeepers to make informed decisions together.”

The publication and accompanying app are available from OSU Extension and Experiment Station Communications (EESC). A user survey is included, and users are asked to complete it to guide EESC in future improvements of the app.

How to Reduce Bee Poisoning” was produced jointly by OSU, the University of Idaho and Washington State University. Its cost was underwritten by beekeeper associations in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and California, and by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

As Beekeepers Loose More Hives, Times For New Rules on Pesticides?

NPR-The Salt   By Allison Aubrey   Updated November 24, 2015

America's beekeepers are having a rough time. They lost an estimated 42 percent of their hives last year.

While some colony losses are normal, these numbers are high. "Such high colony losses in the summer and year-round remain very troubling," entomologist Jeff Pettis said in a statement. He's a researcher at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., and a co-author of the government survey that tallied up the bee losses.

And these findings may be troubling for all of us who eat.

An estimated one in three mouthfuls of food we eat is dependent, to some extent, on the pollination services provided by bees and other pollinators. And honeybee pollination adds an estimated $15 billion to the value of crops each year.

What's to be done to reverse the plight of the bees?

One goal is to give bees more places to forage for nectar and pollen. Earlier this year, a presidential task force released a strategy that calls for restoring or enhancing 7 million acres of pollinator-friendly habit (think planting wildflowers along highways or other public spaces.)

But such efforts alone won't be enough to counter the headwinds that bees face. The task force points to multiple stressors — from climate change to the threat of thevarroa mite to exposure to pesticides.

And it's that last stressor that's generated the most controversy: Several recent studiessuggest that a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which are among the most widely used in the world, are harming bees.

The pesticides, which were introduced in the 1990s, are coated onto the seeds that farmers plant to grow their crops.

Lucas Criswell farms close to 2,000 acres in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley. He has stopped using neonic-treated seeds on some of his crops. (Allison Aubrey/NPR)

It's estimated that somewhere between 80 and 95 percent of all corn planted in the U.S. — and about half of soybean crops — come from seeds pretreated with pesticides. And there's concern about overuse.

"The level of use is way out of step with the level of [pest] threat in most fields where we've worked," Christian Krupke, an entomologist at Purdue University, told me as part of a collaborative report with PBS NewsHour. (It airs Tuesday night on PBS.)

Krupke published a study several years back that linked bee deaths with pesticide-laden dust that flies up during the planting of the pretreated seeds.

But one of the leading manufacturers of neonicotinoids, Bayer Crop Science, says it has found a way to reduce that problem: a seed lubricant that reduces the dust.

Bayer says that, outside of acute exposures, neonicotinoids are not harmful to bees. David Fischer, Bayer's chief scientist, told us that when neonics are used as part of a seed treatment, the pesticide residues that get into the plants are in a "safe range" for bees.

"The body of evidence suggests there's no link between neonic exposure, neonicotinoid use, and bee decline or bee health," Fischer says.

He argues that varroa mites, not pesticides, are responsible for many of the problems bees face.

"Eighty percent of the problem is varroa mites, and the viruses and diseases" that the mites bring, Fischer says.

And the industry stands behind the safety of the pesticides. "Ongooing research and field studies have consistently found no adverse effects on bee colonies when pesticides are applied according to label directions," concludes Crop Life America, an industry trade group.

But, the findings of some recent studies challenge this conclusion.

For instance, a study published in the journal Science found bees exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides seemed less able to navigate their way back to their hives. And another study documented negative effects on populations of wild bees in seed-treated fields and in surrounding meadows.

Last month, a study published in Nature found that neonicotinoid pesticides affect honeybee queens. The researchers wrote that the "reproductive anatomy (ovaries) and physiology [of neonicotinoid exposed queens] were compromised."

"We found that queens exposed to the pesticides were not laying offspring to the [same] levels as those that were not [exposed to the pesticides,]" study author Geoffrey R. Williams, of the Institute of Bee Health in Switzerland, told us.

A combine harvests corn on Lucas Criswell's farm in Pennsylvania. Criswell says that cutting out neonic-treated seeds hasn't hurt his crop yields. (Allison Aubrey/NPR)Queen health is critical to the health of the colony, says Williams. "Our study shows it's possible that these pesticides can play a role in reducing queen health."

Bayer's Fischer says he's not convinced by Williams' findings. He says the study has "a lot of technical flaws in it, and I think it needs to be repeated."

The industry has challenged the findings of studies conducted in laboratory settings. Industry scientists argue that lab-based studies don't capture what happens in the field.

But, as a spate of studies point in the direction of harm, the industry has stepped up efforts to promote bee health. 

Bayer and Syngenta, the top two neonic makers, have launched campaigns aimed at bolstering bee habitat and forage.

Both companies are planting millions of flowers in the U.S. to increase bee forage. And in 2014, Bayer opened a $2 million Bee Care Center in North Carolina. (Bayer earned a reported $3.6 billion in total profits last year. The company told us it wouldn't disclose its sales of neonics only, but according to figures from 2009, Bayer's global sales of a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid alone totaled $1 billion.)

The industry is having to work harder to fend off criticism — and new regulation.

Earlier this year, Ontario, Canada, introduced new rules aimed at reducing the use of these pesticides.

New rules will help ensure that the pesticide-treated seed "is only used when there is evidence of a pest problem," according to the release.

And, the European Union has had a partial ban of neonicotinoids in place for the past two years.

Now, the question some farmers are asking is: Do I really need these pesticides?

Lucas Criswell, who farms close to 2,000 acres in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley, has stopped using neonic-treated seeds on some of his crops.

Several years back, Criswell got an outbreak of slugs eating his soybean crop. He worried that the pesticides were killing off the predators of slugs.

When entomologists at Penn State studied the issue, they found evidence that this could happen. As they reported in a study published last year, neonic "levels in field-collected slugs ... were still high enough to harm insect predators," such as beetles.

"Our research suggests that neonicotinoids can have unintended costs, even within crop production," John Tooker, associate professor of entomology at Penn State, said in a release about the paper.

Bayer's Fischer says he's aware of these findings, but he says the research was "conducted on a small plot on a research farm." Fischer says there's no data to show that this happens broadly.

And, Fischer says there's good evidence that neonicotinoids are beneficial to farmers. "They're extremely valuable," he says.

He says neonics "increase crop yields often by 20 percent, versus the other competitors. So they contribute billions of dollars to the ag economy in the United States." He points to this industry-supported analysis that supports this conclusion.

But Pennsylvania farmer Lucas Criswell is not convinced. He says his corn crop is strong — without using neonic-treated seeds. "We've been getting pretty good yields," Criswell told us — "definitely comparable" to yields from pesticide-treated seeds, he says. And, he says he's saving money, since he's paying less for the untreated seeds.

Now, instead of using the pesticide prophylactically in a pretreated seed, he uses a field scout to keep an eye out for the pests he may need to treat. "So, it's not a blanket approach," he says. If he needs to use a pesticide, "it's a spot treatment."

These pretreated seeds are used so widely, they're almost ubiquitous in corn crops. Criswell says it was a challenge to find untreated seeds. "Typically," he says, "the [pesticide] just comes with [the seed] — even if it's not needed."

He likens the prophylactic use of neonics to taking an aspirin before you have a headache. "All it does is put something in your body that you do not need." He says it's the "same as putting something into the soil that we do not need. "

Criswell says he knows that other farmers may benefit from the pesticides, but he says his crops aren't beset by many of the insects that the neonics are intended to treat.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently re-evaluating the neonicotinoid family of pesticides. The president's task force on pollinators has asked the EPA to expedite the review. And the agency has "temporarily" halted the approval of new uses of neonicotinoids.

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Court Agrees: Sulfoxaflor Registration Based on Flawed and Limited Data

CATCH THE BUZZ - September 15, 2015

The Pollinator Stewardship Council is pleased with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion concerning the registration of sulfoxaflor.  Our argument, presented by Earthjustice attorney, Greg Loarie, addressed our concerns that EPA’s decision process to unconditionally register Sulfoxaflor was based on flawed and limited data, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with us.

Beekeepers WON!  The registration of a highly toxic pesticide to honey bees has been revoked due to the flawed and limited data collected and reviewed by EPA.

We can protect crops from pests and protect honey bees and native pollinators.  To do this, EPA’s pesticide application and review process must receive substantial scientific evidence as to the benefits of a pesticide, as well as the protection of the environment, especially the protection of pollinators. Sulfoxaflor was “registered” for use on cotton, soybeans, citrus, pome/stone fruits, nuts, grapes, potatoes, vegetables, and strawberries.

“Without sufficient data, the EPA has no real idea whether sulfoxaflor will cause unreasonable adverse effects on bees, as prohibited by FIFRA. Accordingly, the EPA’s decision to register sulfoxaflor was not supported by substantial evidence.” (Pollinator Stewardship Council v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; No. 13-72346, pg. 24, 25; Sept. 10, 2015)

“I am inclined to believe the EPA instead decided to register sulfoxaflor unconditionally in response to public pressure for the product and attempted to support its decision retroactively with studies it had previously found inadequate.  Such action seems capricious.” (Pollinator Stewardship Council v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; No. 13-72346, pg. 33; Sept. 10, 2015)

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EPA Plans Temporary Pesticide Restrictions While Bees Feed

CATCH THE BUZZ    By Seth Borenstein AP/Science Writer   May 28, 2015

A federal rule to be proposed Thursday would create temporary pesticide-free zones when certain plants are in bloom around bees that are trucked from farm to farm by professional beekeepers, which are the majority of honeybees in the U.S. The pesticide halt would only happen during the time the flower is in bloom and the bees are there, and only on the property where the bees are working, not neighboring land.

The rule applies to virtually all insecticides, more than 1,000 products involving...


The New Harvard Study on Neonics, May 2014

Scientific Beekeeping    By Randy Oliver   May 16, 2014

The New “Harvard Study” on neonics, May 2014

Dr. Lu of Harvard Medical School, who has no background with honey bees, attempted to run an experiment in 2012 (The 2012 Harvard Study) that would “prove” that the seed treatment of corn put so much imidacloprid into high fructose corn syrup that the feeding of such was the cause of CCD.  Although both the notion and the way in which the “study” was run were preposterous, and were dismissed by all serious bee researchers, it nevertheless got a lot of press.

Thoroughly chastised by the bee research community for his amateurish attempt to perform bee research, Dr. Lu recently released yet anther study, again in a journal practicing questionable peer review.


Update: May 16, 2014

My criticisms of Dr. Lu’s studies have raised a great deal of interest.  I’d like to explain my position.  As a beekeeper who makes his living from having healthy colonies of bees, I am acutely interested in the causes of colony morbidity and mortality.  Without a doubt, pesticides can cause colony morbidity or mortality, which I’ve covered in my Sick Bees series of articles (e.g., The Slaughter of the Innocents).  The neonicotinoid class of insecticides are no exception, and I’ve detailed problems associated with them in The Neonicotinoids–Trying to Make Sense of the Science.  But I’ve also done on-the-ground reality checking on the effects of neonics upon those bees and beekeepers at Ground Zero of neonicotinoid use in The Extinction of the Honey Bee.  Although I initially suspected that neonicotinoids may have been a likely cause of Colony Collapse, my extensive research does not support that hypothesis.

I’ve also run (or participated in) a number of studies on the actual causes of colony collapse, and have published a widely-accepted model of its progression (A Model of Colony Collapse).  Any of several factors  may be involved in colony collapse, including pesticides.  In short, sudden colony depopulation is typically due to the troika of varroa, viruses, and nosema, exacerbated by poor nutrition, beekeeper-applied miticides, and chilling–which may...


(Note from LACBA Secretary, Stacy McKenna: "Actually, the article is pretty good, particularly in that it points out that the research study is pretty crappy. The above is Randy Oliver's take on the "research".")

Link Between Insecticides and Collapse of Honey Bee Colonies Strengthened

Science Daily  Source: Harvard School of Public Health  May 9, 2014

Two widely used neonicotinoids -- a class of insecticide -- appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies over the winter, particularly during colder winters, according to researchers. The study replicated a 2012 finding from the same research group that found a link between imidacloprid and Colony Collapse Disorder, in which bees abandon their hives over the winter and eventually die. The new study found low doses of a second neonicotinoid, clothianidin, had the same negative effect.

Further, although other studies have suggested that CCD-related mortality in honey bee colonies may come from bees' reduced resistance to mites or parasites as a result of exposure to pesticides, the new study found...


Related article:
Two Common Types of Insecticide Found To Harm Honey Bee Colonies 

Pesticides, Not Mites, Cause Honeybee Colony Collapse

Discover Magazine   By Gemma Tarlach   May 9, 2014

Researchers racing to find the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has been killing off honeybees in much of the U.S. and Europe, are zeroing in on the culprit. And — surprise — mites are apparently no longer suspects. But cold winters may be accomplices to the crime.

Studying colonies of honeybees (Apis mellifera L.) at three locations in central Massachusetts during the 2012-13 winter, researchers found that two widely-used pesticides were directly responsible for the hive abandonment and death of several colonies. Comparing their results to previous research, the scientists noted that colder winters may aggravate the negative effects of the pesticides. 

Pesticide Spread

For the study, appearing today in the Bulletin of Insectology, researchers monitored 18 bee colonies — six in each location — from October 2012 through April 2013. A third of the colonies were exposed to low doses of the pesticide imidacloprid, while another third were exposed to the pesticide clothianidin. Both pesticides belong to the neonicotinoid class and are commonly used in agriculture. The remainder of the colonies were left untreated.

The numbers of bees declined in all 18 colonies with the onset of winter weather, which is the usual seasonal pattern.

In January, however, while the control colony populations began to increase as expected, the number of bees in the treated colonies continued to decline. By April, 50 percent of the treated colonies had been wiped out, showing the hive abandonment pattern typical of CCD.

Parasites Absolved

Researchers noted that one of the control colonies also was lost, but its thousands of dead bees were found inside their hive, showing symptoms ofNosema ceranae, an intestinal parasite. When CCD first emerged in honeybee colonies in the mid 2000s, N. ceranae was put forward as a possible cause. Subsequent research in Europe, however, has suggested N. ceranae was widespread in many areas before CCD and is not associated with the phenomenon.

Although other studies have suggested that pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, cause bees to become more susceptible to mites or other parasites that then kill off the bees, today’s study found that bees in the CCD hives had the same levels of parasite infestation as the control colonies. This finding led researchers to conclude that pesticides themselves were directly responsible for causing an as-yet-unidentified but lethal danger to the bees.

The team also noted that, in their previous study on a possible link between imidacloprid and CCD in 2012, the mortality rate for treated colonies was significantly higher — 94 percent — with an earlier die-off. The researchers suggested that the unusually cold winter of 2010-11, during which they conducted the study, exacerbated the effects of the pesticide on the bee populations.

CCD threatens not only bees but entire economies and the world food supply. Honeybees pollinate about a third of crops worldwide and, according to some estimates, as much as 80 percent of U.S. crops.

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Purdue: Bees Dying by the Thousands  By Jon Swaner   May 8, 2014

VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) – A silent killer is wiping out our area’s honey bee population, and beekeepers hope something is done soon before it’s too late.

Perry and Beverly Riley have been beekeepers for 9 years.  Since last summer, Perry has lost about 80-percent of his bees.  He says last year’s drought hurt, and then this past winter did in a number more.

“They’re already weak, and that just put the hammer to them,” said Perry.

As if bad weather weren’t enough, beekeepers like the Riley’s will tell you there’s an even more dangerous bee killer out there: pesticides farmers use in their fields.

“They don’t kill them all at once.  It’s a slow kill.  They’ll go in in the winter, and by spring they’re dead,” said Perry.

Purdue University says bees are dying by the thousands.  A dry spring means the pesticides can be wind blown onto plants like dandelions.  When bees come to pollinate, they’re in essence covered in poison, which they take back to their hives.

“It’s just like you eating a little bit of rat poison every day.  If you keep eating it long enough, you’ll get sick and die,” said Perry.

So what does this mean for you?  Honey bees are responsible for 80% of all pollination that happens in nature.  Without bees, fruit trees will not be as productive.

“They say other insects will pollinate.  The other insects all die,” said Perry.  “So in the spring when your fruit comes in, the honey bees are the only one with the numbers to do it.”

Prices of fruits, plums, and oranges could go up if the bees continue to die.  Perry hopes we take a closer look at the chemicals used on crops.  He says the bee shortage is at a serious stage.

“We’re at the first stage of people starting to wonder what we’re going to do.”  But Perry fears nothing may be done until we start to see the consequences of killing off our honey bees.

Prices on California almonds are also going up due to a bee shortage there.  The industry even resorted to importing honey bees from Australia so trees could be pollinated.

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Bee Action Campaign

Friends of the Earth   April 28, 2014

Friends of the Earth    Bee    News Release    New Report

We've released a new report today, highlighting how agro-chemical companies, such as Bayer, are using deceptive PR tactics to delay action on neonicotinoid pesticides and boost their profits.
Please join us in calling on Bayer to stop selling these bee-killing pesticides.

Bee Larvae Adversely Affected by Mix of Pesticides and Inert Ingredients

Beyond Pesticides     2/6/14

We know that pesticides and bees don’t mix and that particular pesticides, such as neonictinoids, pose significant threats to bee populations worldwide, but a recent study conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University have identified that it is “the mix” of the many chemicals in the environment that pose a significant threat to honey bee survival.numerousbees

Looking at the four most common pesticides detected in pollen and wax -fluvalinatecoumaphoschlorothalonil, and chloropyrifos, Wanyi Zhu and other researchers have assessed the toxic impacts of these pesticides on honey bee larvae at real world exposure levels; that is, levels that are found in existing hives outside of a laboratory. But these researchers go beyond the usual one-chemical analysis in their study, Four Common Pesticides, Their Mixtures and a Formulation Solvent in the Hive Environment Have High Oral Toxicity to Honey Bee Larvae. Rather than just looking at the pesticides in their individual, out-of-the-bottle form, they also mixed them up and broke them apart.

Why did they take this mixed-up approach? “Recently, one hundred and twenty-one different pesticides and metabolites were identified in the hive with...


Source: PLOS One

Common Crop Pesticides Kill Honeybee Larvae in the Hive

Science Daily    Source: Penn State   1/27/14

Four pesticides commonly used on crops to kill insects and fungi also kill honeybee larvae within their hives, according to new research. Scientists also found that N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone -- an inert, or inactive, chemical commonly used as a pesticide additive -- is highly toxic to honeybee larvae.

Four pesticides commonly used on crops to kill insects and fungi also kill honeybee larvae within their hives, according to Penn State and University of Florida researchers. The team also found that N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) -- an inert, or inactive, chemical commonly used as a pesticide additive -- is highly toxic to honeybee larvae.

"We found that four of the pesticides most commonly found in beehives kill bee larvae," said Jim Frazier, professor of entomology, Penn State. "We also found that the negative effects of these pesticides are sometimes greater when the pesticides occur in combinations within the hive. Since pesticide safety is judged almost entirely on adult honeybee sensitivity to individual pesticides and also does not consider mixtures of pesticides, the risk assessment process that the Environmental Protection Agency uses should be...

Time Magazine Envisions a World Without Honeybees  By Liz Judge  8/11/13

TIME Magazine's cover this week depicts a single bee, its wings flapping in frenzied motion on a stark black background. It forebodingly reads, "A WORLD WITHOUT BEES: THE PRICE WE'LL PAY IF WE DON'T FIGURE OUT WHAT'S KILLING THE HONEYBEE".

The article by Bryan Walsh addresses a disastrous phenomenon that could tumble the basis of our food system: the widespread collapse of honeybee colonies nationwide known as "colony collapse disorder." Honeybees across the nation have been dying at rates unseen in history. To say that the bees are dropping like flies, well, it's an affront to the necessity of bees in our food systems and economy. It's hard to talk about colony collapse disorder and not sound Doomsday-ish. And that's because, as Walsh reveals, one-third of the food on our tables is there because of honeybees, which polinate a wide array of the foods we love and need, and their survival is required to fuel our both our bodies and our economy. Forget about berries, fruits, many vegetables if we fail to address this honeybee crisis.

The article illustrates the stakes—what can happen if we lose even more honeybees: The example Walsh singles out is California's $4 billion almond crop, which could fail, and he calls up a powerful demonstration in which a Whole Foods in Rhode Island removed from its produce section all of the foods that exist because of honeybees: 237 out of 453 food items vanished, reports Walsh.

He then asks the necessary question: What's killing them? The TIME article does include a lot of scientific navel-gazing. Much of the mainstream media coverage around honeybee colony collapse just stops there, with scientists scratching their heads, asking questions and spinning a mystery. But, thankfully, Walsh digs into the role of pesticides in all of it. He reports on the lethal effects on bees of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or "neonics" for short.

Neonics are highly toxic to bees. Science shows that these pesticides could be the reason for the widespread die-off, and if these pesticides aren't killing the bees directly, they are likely causing them to lose their way back to the beehive, so they get lost and starve.

But the problem of pesticides is actually morphing and growing as big industrial chemical companies develop and rush to market numerous new types of pesticide chemicals; and those dangerous, new chemicals and pesticides are being rubberstamped for approval by the Environment Protection Agency. Earlier this year, the EPA approved another bee-killing pesticide called Sulfoxaflor. Sulfoxaflor is shown to be “highly toxic” to honey bees and other insect pollinators. Sulfoxaflor is a new chemistry and the first of a newly assigned sub-class of pesticides in the “neonicotinoid” class of pesticides, which some scientists have linked as a potential factor to widespread colony collapse.

The doubt some scientists are casting on the role of these toxic chemicals in colony collapse is unconvincing to many beekeepers across the country, who have observed it all first-hand and know the patterns better than anyone. And these beekeepers have seen all they need to see in their struggle to keep their businesses alive and survive financially. They are so concerned with the effects of pesticides on their industry that they haveenlisted Earthjustice as their lawyers in taking the last-resort action of suing the EPA for continuing to approve pesticides like neonics. Anything but a litigious crowd, the beekeepers feel there's no other recourse to save their struggling industry.

They say that by approving this and other pesticides, or even by providing scant information for farmers about how they should apply the pesticides to protect the honeybees, the EPA is dooming their industry. And they have tried and tried to get EPA to take a close look at the repercussions of these chemicals not only on the beekeeping industry but also on our food systems.

Rick Smith, beekeeper and farmer and Earthjustice client in the lawsuit, when we filed the lawsuit in July, said:

The beekeeping industry has proactively engaged EPA to address concerns for many years. The industry is seriously concerned the comments it submitted during the Sulfoxaflor registration comment period were not adequately addressed before EPA granted full registration.

The sun is now rising on a day where pollinators are no longer plentiful.

Randy Verhoek, President of the Board of the American Honey Producers Association, added:

The bee industry has had to absorb an unreasonable amount of damage in the last decade. Projected losses for our industry this year alone are over $337 million.

Explained Bret Adee, President of the Board of the National Pollinator Defense Fund:

The EPA is charged with preventing unreasonable risk to our livestock, our livelihoods, and most importantly, the nation’s food supply.

This situation requires an immediate correction from the EPA to ensure the survival of commercial pollinators, native pollinators, and the plentiful supply of seed, fruits, vegetables, and nuts that pollinators make possible.

We got involved in this case because the stakes are tremendously high. As Earthjustice attorney Janette Brimmer put it:

The effects will be devastating to our nation’s food supply and also to the beekeeping industry, which is struggling because of toxic pesticides.

This lawsuit against the EPA is an attempt by the beekeepers to save their suffering industry. The EPA has failed them.

And the EPA’s failure to adequately consider impacts to pollinators from these new pesticides is wreaking havoc on an important agricultural industry and gives short shrift to the requirements of the law.

Stay with us as we fight to save beekeepers and their bees, our nation's food supplies, and the future of our country, which depends on a sustainable and healthy food system.

A World Without Bees

Time Magazine   By Bryan Walsh  8/19/13

(Photo by Hannah Whitaker for Time)

The Plight of the Honeybee

Mass deaths in bee colonies may mean disaster for farmers--and your favorite foods

You can thank the Apis mellifera, better known as the Western honeybee, for 1 in every 3 mouthfuls you'll eat today. Honeybees — which pollinate crops like apples, blueberries and cucumbers — are the "glue that holds our agricultural system together," as the journalist Hannah Nordhaus put it in her 2011 book The Beekeeper's Lament. But that glue is failing. Bee hives are dying off or disappearing thanks to a still-unsolved malady called colony collapse disorder (CCD), so much so that commercial beekeepers are being pushed out of the business.

So what's killing the honeybees?

Pesticides — including a new class called neonicotinoids — seem to be harming bees even at what should be safe levels. Biological threats like the Varroa mite are killing off colonies directly and spreading deadly diseases. As our farms become monocultures of commodity crops like wheat and corn — plants that provide little pollen for foraging bees — honeybees are literally starving to death. If we don't do something, there may not be enough honeybees to meet the pollination demands for valuable crops. But more than that, in a world where up to 100,000 species go extinct each year, the vanishing honeybee could be the herald of a permanently diminished planet.

Read more:,9171,2149141,00.html#ixzz2bgDT9cAq

NPDF Supports Oregon's Review of Dinotefuran

(The following is brought to us by the American Bee Journal.)   7/30/13

The National Pollinator Defense Fund applauds the actions of the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture in their review of pesticides after bumble bees were killed from the use of Safari.  This loss of native pollinators is not an isolated case; it was just a very public and highly visible incident.  Thousands of dead bumble bees in a parking lot brought attention to the misuse of pesticides that happens throughout the U.S. in backyards, parks, farms, and cities.  The loss of pollinators, managed and native, due to a misuse of pesticides is constant in farms and fields: the remains of the bees however, are not as physically visible across 400 acres, as they are in a paved parking lot. 

The Oregon Dept. of Agriculture was correct in reviewing the use of this pesticide.  If the product can be used safely, sparingly, and according to the label then it can be utilized per its purpose: protection from damaging pests.  The key in the evaluation of this pesticide is “using the product per the label.”  Sadly, a misuse of pesticides is caused by users not reading the label, as well as the label not clarifying the risks of the pesticide, especially if mixed with fungicides or herbicides.  In this case the label clearly stated, “This product is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment or residues on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow it to drift to blooming crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treatment area.”

The National Pollinator Defense Fund supports the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture’s review of eighteen pesticides with the active ingredient dinotefuran in order to determine safe guidelines for use, that the product is used sparingly, is not applied to blooming plants, and is the last alternative to control a plant damaging pest.

The National Pollinator Defense Fund’s (NPDF) mission is to defend managed and native pollinators vital to a sustainable and affordable food supply from the adverse impacts of pesticides.  For more information about the NPDF visit  

Subscribe to the American Bee Journal and sign up for ABJ Extra

What Our World Would Look Like Without Honeybees

Business Insider   By Diane Spector   6/22/13

A world without honeybees would also mean a world without fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds

Nearly one-third of the world's crops are dependent on honeybees for pollination, but over the last decade the black-and-yellow insects have been dying at unprecedented rates both in the United States and abroad.

[Jump straight to the photos]  

Pesticides, disease, parasites, poor weather, and the stress of being trucked from orchard-to-orchard to pollinate different crops all play a role in the decline of managed honeybee populations. A lack of bees threatens farmers who depend on these nectar- and pollen-eating animals for their pollination services.

We have few planned defenses against a honeybee disaster. The Farm Bill, passed on June 10, 2013, allocates less than $2 million a year in emergency assistance to honeybees. 

"The bottom line is, if something is not done to improve honeybee health, then most of the interesting food we eat is going to be unavailable," warns Carlen Jupe, secretary and treasurer for the California State Beekeepers Association.

Honeybees as a species are not in danger of extinction, but their ability to support the industry of commercial pollination, and by extension, a large portion of our food supply, is in serious danger.

Whole Foods recently imagined what our grocery store would like in a world without bees by removing more than half of the market's produce. Here, we also take a purely hypothetical look at how the human diet and lifestyle would change if honeybees and other bee pollinators disappeared from our planet one day. This is the worst case scenario — it's possible that human ingenuity and alternate pollinators can mitigate some of these outcomes, but not necessarily all of them.

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View Slideshow of What Our World Would Look Like Without Honeybees: