Scientists in the Field
Spiral Notebook
Honey Bee News
by Loree Burns
August 13, 2013
 
Honey Bee News
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Dr. Jeff Pettis and Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, two of the scientists profiled in The Hive Detectives, recently carried out new experiments to look at the ways chemicals sprayed on crops affect honey bee health. You can read the results of those experiments here.  And if you do, you’ll see they are both fascinating and frightening.

If you’ve read The Hive Detectives, then you know some beekeepers, like Dave Hackenberg, rent their hives to farmers for crop pollination. So, if I’m a pumpkin farmer, I could pay Dave to bring his beehives over to my farm and plop them down in the middle of the pumpkin patch for a few weeks. The idea is that his bees would get busy collecting nectar and pollen from my blooming pumpkin plants and, in the process, make sure that every last one was pollinated. The result? Lots o’ pumpkins.

But in this new paper, Jeff and Dennis report something surprising. When they closely examined the pollen collected by bees working a pumpkin patch, they discovered the pollen was not pumpkin pollen. Instead, the bees came back with mostly wildflower pollen! This was true of commercial bees put into fields of pumpkins, blueberries, cranberries, watermelon, and cucumber. Fascinating, no?

In the frightening department, closer analysis of this pollen—collected, remember, from wildflowers growing around commercial vegetable fields—revealed it was full of agricultural chemicals. These chemicals were presumably sprayed on the crops, but how did they end up in the pollen of nearby weeds?

The paper describes other experiments too, including some aimed at understanding how exposure to chemicals affects a honey bee’s ability to fight certain infections. If you, like me, are worried about our honey bees, this paper is worth a read.

 

Image © Ellen Harasimowicz

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About Loree Burns

Loree Griffin Burns, Ph.D. lives, writes, and watches bees in central Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband and three children. You can visit her at www.loreeburns.com. She is the author of the award-winning Scientists in the Field titles Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion and The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe.  Her next Scientists in the Field book is about beetles and trees.

 

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