Millions of Honeybees Have Been Killed by Spray Intended to Prevent Zika Virus

September 6, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

bee hive
Photo credit: Public Domain image

Aerial pesticide spraying has led to mass bee death in South Carolina.

Last week, South Carolina beekeepers found their apiaries had turned into bee graveyards after a day of aerial pesticide spraying. The spraying was intended to kill off mosquitoes potentially carrying the Zika virus, but ended up killing off massive numbers of honeybees.

Officials decided to spray parts of Dorchester County, near Charleston, with Naled (an insecticide) in an effort to prevent local transmission of the virus — to date, four travel-associated cases of Zika have been reported in the county.

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Naled has been used in the US for mosquito control since 1959, according to the Environmental Protection AgencyThe New York Times reports that officials have said the pesticide can pose risks to honeybees, along with aquatic invertebrates and land animals.

The toll last week’s spraying has taken on honeybees is still being tabulated. According to one estimate reported by The Washington Post, 2.5 million bees at a single apiary, called Flowerton Bee Farm and Supply, died immediately following the application of the pesticide. The spray has devastated numerous other beekeeping businesses.

Given sufficient warning, beekeepers will take measures to shield their hives from contamination. Though The Post notes that county officials sent out word via press release, newspaper announcement, and Facebook, beekeepers argue that they were unaware of the plan to spray.

Many are now wondering what’s in store for the bees that survived the toxic exposure. Jennifer Holmes, vice-president of the Florida State Beekeepers Association and the co-owner of a company with about 300 colonies north of West Palm Beach told The Guardian that beekeepers fear “not just the immediate die-offs, but possible genetic die-offs or sterility.”

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