Bees become ‘addicted’ to harmful pesticides, scientists warn

August 31, 2018 in News by RBN Staff


Source: The Telegraph


Bees become addicted to pesticides in the same way that humans grow dependent on cigarettes, new research has found.

The more of the nicotine-like chemicals they consume, the more they appear to want, a study has shown.

The findings suggest that the risk of potentially harmful pesticide-contaminated nectar entering bee colonies is higher than was previously thought.

Controversial neonicotinoid pesticides are chemically similar to nicotine, the addictive compound in tobacco.

In 2013 the European Union imposed a partial ban on three widely used neonicotinoids because of evidence that they may be harmful to bees.

The ban has now been extended to cover all crops not grown in greenhouses, despite strong opposition from some groups including the UK’s National Farmers’ Union, but it could be revoked following Brexit.

In a series of studies, a team of British researchers offered bumblebees a choice of two sugar solutions, one of which was laced with neonicotinoid pesticides.

Crucial bee colonies are under severe threat in the UK CREDIT: AFP

They found that over time the bees increasingly preferred feeders containing the pesticide-flavoured sugar.

The research tracked 10 bumblebee colonies over 10 days.

Each colony had access to its own foraging area in which the researchers had set up sugar-dispensing feeders.

Dr Richard Gill, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, said: “Given a choice, naive bees appear to avoid neonicotinoid-treated food. However, as individual bees increasingly experience the treated food they develop a preference for it.

“Interestingly, neonicotinoids target nerve receptors in insects that are similar to receptors targeted by nicotine in mammals.

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“Our findings that bumblebees acquire a taste for neonicotinoids ticks certain symptoms of addictive behaviour, which is intriguing given the addictive properties of nicotine on humans, although more research is needed to determine this in bees.”

The findings are reported in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Almost a quarter of European bumblebee species are threatened with extinction, largely because of climate change and intensive farming, studies have warned.

Of the five most important pollinators of European crops, three are bumblebee species.