Honey bee colonies in the United States have experienced annual population declines since 2006. Commercial beekeepers have reported honey bee colony loss rates averaging 30% each winter, which is startling when compared to historical loss rates of just 10-15%. According to the USDA, there are many factors contributing to this decline, including parasites, pests, diseases, pesticides, and a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, in which worker bees abandon a hive and leave behind the queen.
According to a new study by researchers from Cornell University, beeswax in managed honey bee hives contains a variety of pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide residues. Because bees reuse wax over years, these harmful chemicals can accumulate inside hives, exposing current and future generations of bees to long-term toxicity.
The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation, adds that humans may also be exposed to these pesticides through contaminated honey, pollen, and beeswax (which is used in certain soaps, lotions, and cosmetics). However, the amounts in these products are unlikely to pose a major threat to human health.
Pesticides get into the beeswax when bees feast on the nectar and pollen of plants that have been treated with the chemicals. According to the researchers, understanding which contaminants are impacting domestic honey bee populations could help better protect them and other pollinators, including birds, bats, wild bees, and other insects.
Photo, posted November 22, 2008, courtesy of Andrew Rivett via Flickr.