A Common Pesticide Is Making Bees Insomniacs

Photo: Louise Docker, Wiki CC

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

Two studies have found that bees and flies are losing sleep because of a common pesticide disrupting their internal clocks. In one study, researchers found that bumblebees that drank nectar laced the pesticide neonicotinoids had a much harder time foraging. The pesticide caused the bees to take on erratic pollinating patterns: they foraged less and adopted a nocturnal lifestyle.  Meanwhile, the second study found that flies exposed to pesticides called neonicotinoids had drastically different movement patterns. According to the study’s results, the pesticide directly impacted the brain cells that govern the flies’ internal clocks, which decide when they sleep.

Why this Matters: According to the WWF, 90% of wild plants and 75% of global crops depend on pollination. Bees are incredibly important in helping plants grow. Honeybees in particular are responsible for more than one in every three bites of food we eat and increase crop values in the US by more than $15 billion every year.  But because of climate change, pesticide use, and habitat loss, the odds of spotting a bumblebee in Europe or America have decreased by over 30% over the last 20 years. The world’s insects are facing an extinction crisis: more than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered.

Bee Sleep Disruption

Kiah Tasman, of the University of Bristol’s School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience, explained to CNN,  “It’s quite worrying because other studies and our studies show that the foraging motivation has decreased.”  Tasman added: ”It looks like these pesticides freeze these cells in a daytime shape, so the body doesn’t know if it’s daytime or nighttime.”

Neonicotinoids are only making things worse, since at nighttime flowers aren’t as visible or available, making it much more difficult for the bees to find food. Moreover, this research links with other studies that have suggested that neonicotinoid pesticides have damaged the brains of baby bees, making it much harder for them to learn how to successfully forage for food. These studies suggest that we should investigate making more pest-specific pesticides, so we don’t harm the bee populations we so direly need.

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