Bees Are Addicted to Pesticide-Laced Nectar

Photo by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/blathlean/5424404555">blathlean</a>/Flickr/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">Creative Commons</a>
Photo by blathlean/Flickr/Creative Commons

See our California Matters with Mark Bittman segment on native pollinators here.

As humans, we often make food choices that aren't always good for us. Yes, we know we should be eating fresh fruits and vegetables, but sometimes all we really want is a greasy helping of fries.

Turns out, bees aren't that much different from us in their desire for junk food.

According to new research published in Nature, bees show a preference to nectar that's laced with common agricultural pesticides, like neonicotinoids, the neurotoxin largely responsible for the decline in bee population.

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Neonicotinoids target the same mechanisms in the bee brain that are affected by nicotine in the human brain.

Professor Geraldine Wright, lead scientist on the study at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, told Science Daily, "The fact that bees show a preference for food containing neonicotinoids is concerning as it suggests that like nicotine, neonicotinoids may act like a drug to make foods containing these substances more rewarding."

When the bees were presented with a pure sugar solution and a sugar solution laced with neonics, they preferred the one with neonics. What's more worrying is that the bees cannot taste the neonics and therefore can't avoid them. They're attracted and addicted to the pesticide-laden nectar even though it caused them to eat less food overall.

In 2013, the European Union instituted a two-year ban on three of the controversial pesticides. The United States, meanwhile, established the Pollinator Health Task Force last year to investigate the bee deaths and increase and improve pollinator habitats on federal land. California is currently reviewing the use of neonicotinoids as part of Assembly Bill 1789, which was passed last year.

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