Growing Concern Over Chemical Synergism in Beehives

Honeybees are hoarders, they accumulate good things like different types of nectar and pollen, but like hoarders there are some unintended consequences to bringing in all of that forage. That consequence is the accumulation of different pesticides.  We also add to their pesticide load when we treat for diseases.


wonder what else is in that pollen?
picture from:

A study of hive samples in 2007-2008 found as many as 39 chemical residues in a hive, an average of six residues across hives, and the presence of at least one type of chemical in 98 percent of hives!

To me this poses the question: how are the bees coping with these chemicals? We know that insects develop insecticide resistance through a variety of methods.  They can chop the insecticide up once it enters the body using molecular cleavers called enzymes. They can also stick something to the insecticide to make it a target for removal, like putting a bulls eye on it.

There is increasing  evidence that some insects, including  honey bees, also have special transporters in their cells that prevent insecticides from building up to toxic levels, kind of like a bouncer at a club keeping the bad people out.

The interesting thing about these mechanisms is that insects can be rendered sensitive to insecticides again by simply co-exposing them to another chemical that prevents those cellular actions from working.

This has been shown in honeybees using products that are used to treat honeybee diseases.  Feeding bees oxytetracycline (terramycin) has been shown to increase the toxicity of coumaphos and t-fluvalinate. It is not a big leap to imagine that some of the things bees pick up while foraging could also make them more sensitive to other chemicals.

Feeding bees with a chemical to test the function of their cellular transporters

Feeding bees with a chemical to test the function of their cellular transporters

As beekeepers we  need to push  for further study of chemical-chemical interactions, and not just test that the effect of a single insecticide on honey bees. We should always keep a close track of what we are putting inside of our hives, and be aware that mixtures of treatments could make the bees more susceptible to poisoning. We can’t control what the bees bring back into the hive, but we can  try to be aware of what products are being used in nearby forage. This information is becoming increasingly more important for making hive management decisions.

Links to studies discussed on this page:

Killing them with kindness? In hive medications may inhibit xenobiotic efflux transporters and endanger honey bees.

High Levels of miticides and agrochemicals in North American apiaries: implications for honey bee health



EAS Meeting Follow Up



Setting Up!


Andrew Being a Friendly Face


WOW beekeepers know how to throw a conference! I recently returned to Maryland after attending the eastern apiculture society meeting and it was really fun. Andrew and I talked to tons of people at our booth about BIP, but we also got to enjoy several of the talks and other activities offered at EAS.

Sometimes people would come by the booth just to say something nice about BIP. I really enjoyed talking with people who were already participating in some of our initiatives, such as the management survey, or our Tier 4 pilot program. It helps get through some of the more tedious tasks in the lab when you can imagine an actual person at the other end of the line.

We also just got to talk a lot about beekeeping.  There is one thing I’ve been hearing over and over:  People are still losing A LOT of bees, inexplicably. I can’t begin to diagnose why any one person lost a hive but it reinforces the importance of taking data and making information available.


Katie Lee performing a hive assessment at EAS

Although it is easy to fall into a pit of gloom and doom when talking about whats going on with the bees, I found there was a hopeful and supportive atmosphere at EAS.  The shear diversity of research on honeybees is really encouraging, we saw talks on everything from diet, habitat, management styles, toxicology, disease, queens, larvae, feral colonies, and pro-biotics to name a few.   All of this research is being conducted with the goal of making beekeeping as sustainable as it used to be.  Thank you EAS for a wonderful time!

Currently I am at the Penn State International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health,  and Policy with Nathalie and Meghan. We are having a wonderful time at this beautiful location and talking with scientists from all over the world! The masters student in me is really looking forward to the poster session tonight to get a wide view of what exciting new research is going on not just on honeybees but all manner of pollinators.


A very small part of a WONDERFUL pollinator garden within the EXTRA WONDERFUL arboretum at penn state. (I love UMD but I have garden envy!)


Upcoming EAS Meeting

Hey Everyone!

As a new member of the BIP team I’m discovering a big part of what we do is spread the word about our various projects and surveys.  One of the ways we do this is by attending beekeeping conferences.

Currently Andrew Garavito and I are getting ready to represent BIP at the Eastern Apiculture Society (EAS) meeting held in West Chester, PA from august 5th to the 9th.  We are super excited to attend not only to represent BIP but also to check out some of the cool stuff EAS has going on, like the honey show and some of the short courses on beekeeping.

If you are attending the meeting, make sure to stop by our booth! Andrew and I will look like this:


 We will be handing out information on BIP, the APHIS National Honey Bee Survey, and about some of our newer initiatives like tier 4 and our emergency response kits.We would also just love to talk about bees or anything else!

Andrew and I also hope to go see some of the talks, including a talk by our project director,  Dennis vanEngelsdorp on hive management practices, and a talk by one of our very own tech team members Katie Lee.

If you are a member of EAS hopefully we’ll see you there and if you aren’t, look for an updated blog after the meeting where I will do my best to report what I see and hear at the meeting.



Bee Mimics


                At a glance can you tell who the imposter is? Honeybee mimics like the drone fly, shown on the above left, have been able to fool many people, especially when you just glance at one out of the corner of your eye.

                 But why does this fly, and other mimics go through the trouble of imitating another organism? How can we easily tell what’s a bee and what’s not? And why would we want to do such a thing anyway?

                As it turns out mimics of many types exist for many reasons.  These include protection from predators, which would be referred to as batesian or mullerian mimicry, or to gain resources such as food or habitat referred to as aggressive mimicry (Ceccarelli 2013). Just check out this Bumble bee mimic feeding on an unsuspecting beetle that might not anticipate a bumble bee as a predator. 

                In the case of the honey bee mimic above, danger avoidance seems most likely.  One study showed that when a monkey captures a bee mimic it lets it go after a few seconds, as if the fly were a bee stinging its hand.   Other animals such as lizards and spiders have also demonstrated an avoidance of the drone fly after an encounter with a honeybee. (Brower & Brower 1965)

                So why do we care about spotting mimics? With the loss of pollinator diversity we are likely experiencing, there has been a movement to try and catalog just how many types of pollinators, and particularly native bees we actually have. How could you know you lost something if you didn’t know it was there in the first place?  This kind of effort relies on citizen science, or the combined efforts of the general public to provide the data.  One group that does this is called Beespotter, a group thatbegan in the Midwest and is expanding its efforts across the United States. 

                Their webpage provides easy tricks for how to tell a mimic from a bee. Luckily if you are in the know, it’s pretty easy to tell the imposter from the real thing with a few simple clues, the easiest being to count the wings! Flies will never have more than two wings, because their hind two wings have been replaced by small knobbed stalks called halters. Every kind of bee will always have four wings.

                So now that you know how to tell the difference between a fly and a bee, try and see how many different types of bees you notice out and about this summer! Many of us spend a lot of time outdoors, so maybe even grab a camera and join Beespotter to contribute as a citizen scientist.

Works Cited:

  • Beespotter webpage
  • Brower, J. Brower, L. “Experimental Studies of Mimicry. 8. Further Investigations of Honeybees (Apis mellifera) and Their Dronefly Mimics (Eristalis spp.)” the American Naturalist. Vol. 99, No. 906 (May – Jun., 1965), pp. 173-187
  • Ceccarelli, F. “Ant-Mimicking Spiders: Strategies for Living with Social Insects.” Psyche vol.2013

  • Pictures from