Nowadays, most people are seeking out knowledge about environmental issues to be smarter consumers as well as generally kinder to the earth which supplies us with so much. Given the recent placement of bees on the endangered species list (combined with my passion for lawn care!), I wanted to learn more about the effects of lawn pesticides on bees and other animals. This article reveals these findings.
Do lawn pesticides kill bees and other animals? Yes, Pesticides hurt bees’ reproductive abilities, which contribute to the dying population. They kill bees in a slow process over longer periods of time, which affect the reproduction rates of entire colonies. The impacts of pesticides on bees and other wildlife are extensive.
The rest of this article shows how pesticides affect bees and other wildlife as well as pesticides to avoid and ones that are safe to use.
The Effects Lawn Pesticides Have on Bees
Bees are pollinators, meaning they move pollen from the anthers of a male plant to the stigmas of female plants. They help the fertilization process of flowers occur. They also collect nectar from plants and convert this into a stored food source which eventually becomes honey stored in a honeycomb.
Lawn pesticides are all toxic at some level because they are meant to kill pests and weeds. 88 million US households use pesticides around their homes.
Lawn pesticides are known to contain carcinogens, are linked with birth defects, can cause liver or kidney damage, and have the potential to interfere with natural hormonal systems in humans. One can only imagine the levels of damage they would do to a small honeybee.
Pesticides are sprayed all over pest-infected areas and weeds to aid in the elimination process. Bees take a direct hit when they pollinate plants. Pesticides can be so toxic they cause bees immediate death, while others slowly infiltrate the bees’ internal systems, damaging their reproductive abilities and slowing down rates.
Naturally, this decreases the bee population more and more over generations.
When bees land on a flower that has been treated with a pesticide or perhaps has residue left from a previous or nearby treatment, the pesticide can also enter the bee’s central nervous system.
This disorients the bee to the point of damaging its thinking and memory capabilities. Once bees are poisoned, they struggle to make their way back to their hives which has a deeper effect on the overall success of the colony.
Pesticides That Kill Bees
The average lawn is home to many weeds homeowners seem to hate. The most common way to get rid of these pesky plants is with herbicide. Herbicides are most effective at killing two main types of weeds, the common dandelion and Dutch white clover, the most common food source for bees.
Dandelions are especially important for bees because they are the earliest pollen and nectar source essential to honey bee colonies who begin their reproduction early in the winter. It is vital for honeybees to start an early process of raising new worker bees. White clover is another early spring bloomer that provides very beneficial pollen the whole year.
In particular, neonicotinoid pesticides are most dangerous to bees, especially in agricultural and farming regions. These are a common class of insecticides with traces of nicotine that are absorbed by plants and transferred throughout the vascular system.
These pesticides have been adopted for use on an extensive variety of farm crops as well as landscape plants. They affect the nervous systems of insects, humans, and other animals, and are highly toxic to small invertebrates, especially bees.
Chemicals are absorbed into the plant they are sprayed on, thus affecting their pollen and nectar. This is toxic to pollinators like bees who feed on them. Additionally, some compounds are strong enough and applied so widely that they remain in the soil long after certain blooming periods. This can affect more plants and pollinators down the road.
These products can be lethal upon a bee’s direct contact with a plant or flower. Additionally, foliar residues on the surface of plants can remain lethal to bees several days after first use. Most of these neonicotinoids are made up of chemical compounds like clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, or thiamethoxam which are toxic upon ingestion.
As a result, bees can experience problems with their flight, reduced taste sensitivity, and the slower learning of tasks which all directly impact their ability to forage and their productivity within their colonies.
Pesticides That Are Safe for Bees
Fortunately, there are alternative routes you can take to care for your lawn and garden aesthetic while protecting precious wildlife. Additionally, these alternatives are likely more cost-effective.
Organic Neem Oil
Organic neem oil comes from an evergreen tree mainly found in India, but can be easily accessible online. It is great at repelling small pests like mites but also highly effective at treating fungal diseases such as mildew. If used inaccurate doses it does not threaten pollinators or humans. Neem oil is biodegradable and does not leave a residue. You can make a homemade solution, as long as it is diluted. Your solution should not contain more than 3% oil.
You might already have this solution sitting in your kitchen cabinet! Both white wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar are effective weed killers due to their acidic nature. You can easily pour vinegar into a spray bottle and directly spritz weeds without harming bees whatsoever.
Epsom salt is a great tool to have in your gardening arsenal. It is completely safe and non-toxic, while also high in magnesium for your tomato and pepper plants. Epsom salts ward off slugs and snails as well. You can purchase a bag of salt and directly sprinkle it around the base of the plant, or you can mix it with water and salt saline spray to the leaves of plants.
This flower has a natural pest-repelling compound called pyrethrin. They can be planted to repel pests or even crushed up and made into tea which can be sprayed on the leaves of plants after it has cooled down. You might as well make yourself a cup while you’re at it.
Pepper, Garlic, and Onion
In mild concentrations, pepper spray works in similar ways that it might work on human skin. Mix chili peppers, garlic, or onions into a blender with some water mixed in. Boil this mixture on the stove and cool it. Dilute the mixture even more with water after it has been cooled and pour it into a water bottle or spritzer. You don’t want it to be so strong it burns your plants. Make sure you are wearing proper protection like gloves or even goggles when making the mixture so as not to irritate your eyes or skin!
Pesticides You Should Not Use
Under no circumstances should you use neonicotinoids. Here is another list of brand names that contain chemical branches of neonicotinoids like Imidacloprids, Clothianidins, Thiamethoxams, Acetamiprids, and Dinotefurans. Avoid these.
- DIY Tree Care Products
- Hi-Yield Systemic Spray
- Knockout-Ready-To-Use Grub Killer
- Ortho Bug
- Ortho MAX
- Surrender Brand
- Green Light Grub Control
Other Ways to Keep Bees Safe While Using Pesticides
Much of keeping bees safe while using pesticides involves the discretion and common sense of the user. It is important to be meticulous and vigilant when it comes to safety if you do have to apply pesticides. The best way you can do this is by making sure you are following this protocol.
Read Labels Carefully
Read all package labels very carefully before use, and make sure you are following directions precisely how the package says. Avoid using pesticides that have caution labels such as “highly toxic to bees” or “extended residual toxicity” during peak seasons of bloom. If the label warns you against it, you can be sure these pesticides will do some damage whether that be through application or residue.
Contact Related Industry Workers
Before you decide on using pesticides, be sure you reach out to your county’s agricultural commissioner so they can notify nearby beekeepers of the location of a pesticide. If a pesticide has a warning label, beekeepers in a one-mile radius should be notified by the person doing the application about 48 hours before the use. This allows beekeepers to prepare and protect their hives as much as possible within their control.
Don’t Spray Hives Directly
Do not directly spray beehives with any sort of pesticide! Any form of pesticide applicator that comes in contact with bees can have very serious consequences and affect the long-term reproduction of the hives.
Don’t Hit Flying Bees
If you are in the process of pesticide application, do not spray it directly at flying bees. Any bee that is hit with the pesticide will not be able to fly because of the weight of the drops on their wings. This inhibits their flight path and prevents them from returning to their hive which again, affects the whole colony.
Report Suspected Bad Practices
If you suspect or witness any bad use of pesticides that are intentionally damaging to bees or other forms of wildlife, contact your county agricultural commissioner who can help address these concerns and enforce proper punishments.
What Other Animals to Pesticides Affect?
Pesticides affect bee populations and rodent populations the most directly, as they are specifically used to target these animals and their direct habitats. However, other wildlife suffers from the residual usage of these pesticides.
Animals such as hawks, owls, squirrels, skunks, deer, foxes and coyotes are most indirectly targeted by pesticides as they feed on insects and small animals specifically targeted by pesticides.