Metro

Pesticides eyed in major bee killings in Bristol County

Dead bees from Lucy Tabit’s hives.

Handout/Lucy Tabit

Dead bees from Lucy Tabit’s hives.

This summer, recreational beekeeper Wayne Andrews of Dighton went to his hives to find some of his bees lying on their backs, twitching and unable to fly. It wasn’t long before they died.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources determined that Andrews’s bee kill was caused by the pesticide Lannate, which is highly toxic to bees, said Amy Mahler, the department’s spokeswoman.

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Two other reported kills in Bristol County in September — one of which cost the keeper 30,000 to 40,000 bees, according to Andrews — are under investigation by the department.

Honey bees have been in decline for a variety of reasons, including pesticide use, across the country for years. From 2006 to 2011, the population declined by about 33 percent each year, and by 22 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The number of bee colonies in the country is half of what it was in 1940.

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“All of a sudden, there are thousands of dead bees in front of your hive, and you go, ‘Oh, my!’” said Andrews, who lost a few thousand bees last year, too. “I want to find out what’s happening so we can fix it.”

Though the department has not concluded what caused the September bee kills, Andrews, a retired director of the Bristol County Mosquito Control Project and current board member of the Bristol County Bee Keepers, said he suspected pesticides. The bees in at least one of the kills demonstrated similar signs of neurological failure, like twitching, as his did.

“They’re on their backs twitching and moving back and forth. It’s a typical neurological thing,” Andrews said. “This is very unique in the way it gets into the nervous system.” Andrews said bees that develop organic diseases usually fly away from the hive, but these bees can’t even fly. Neurological failure is characteristic of pesticide poisoning, he said.

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Andrews’ hives are about half a mile from the closest corn farm, and the state found that that farm used Lannate, he said. Bees gather the Lannate-coated pollen and bring it back to the hive, where it poisons thousands of others. The farm also used a spray called Warrior, which Andrews said probably killed several thousand bees that didn’t make it back to the hive.

Andrews said solutions may include spraying pesticides at different times or using different types that aren’t as lethal to bees. But the pesticides are both legal and effective, giving farmers little reason to change their methods.

“I’ve been keeping bees a long time, and I’ve been seeing bee kills coming and going,” Andrews said. “You can’t correct something until you have a lot of good information.”

Kiera Blessing can be reached at kiera.blessing@globe.com.
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