It’s the pesticides stupid

Boston Globe Magazine going long on research into what’s killing all the bees.

There’s a certain genius to pesticides known as systemics. Unlike traditional pest-killing chemicals, which are usually sprayed on crops, lawns, and trees, systemic pesticides render a plant toxic to bugs from the inside out. Seeds are treated with pesticide before they’re sowed (or sometimes the soil is pre-treated). When the plant grows, the poison essentially grows with it, spreading to all parts of the tissue and killing any snacking corn borers, rootworms, aphids, or stink bugs.

The big systemic pesticides these days are called neonicotinoids, which are derived from nicotine and target insects’ nervous systems. They have exploded in popularity over the past decade, thanks to a perception that they are both safer and more effective than the pesticides they replaced. The vast majority of corn planted in the United States today is pre-treated with neonicotinoids, the seeds colored like candy. So are other major crops such as soybeans and canola.

The wind, not bees, pollinates corn, but bees can collect corn pollen. And neonicotinoid-laced pollen blows onto nearby flowers and crops, exposing honeybees to the poison. Neonicotinoids are also used on plants that bees do pollinate, including cucumbers and watermelons. Unlike older pesticides, neonicotinoids can linger in the soil for months or even years.

It’s the pesticides stupid

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