Numerous surveys reveal high levels of pesticide residue contamination in honey bee comb. We conducted studies to examine possible direct and indirect effects of pesticide exposure from contaminated brood comb on developing worker bees and adult worker lifespan.
Worker bees were reared in brood comb containing high levels of known pesticide residues (treatment) or in relatively uncontaminated brood comb (control). Delayed development was observed in bees reared in treatment combs containing high levels of pesticides particularly in the early stages (day 4 and 8) of worker bee development. Adult longevity was reduced by 4 days in bees exposed to pesticide residues in contaminated brood comb during development. Pesticide residue migration from comb containing high pesticide residues caused contamination of control comb after multiple brood cycles and provided insight on how quickly residues move through wax. Higher brood mortality and delayed adult emergence occurred after multiple brood cycles in contaminated control combs. In contrast, survivability increased in bees reared in treatment comb after multiple brood cycles when pesticide residues had been reduced in treatment combs due to residue migration into uncontaminated control combs, supporting comb replacement efforts. Chemical analysis after the experiment confirmed the migration of pesticide residues from treatment combs into previously uncontaminated control comb.
This study is the first to demonstrate sub-lethal effects on worker honey bees from pesticide residue exposure from contaminated brood comb. Sub-lethal effects, including delayed larval development and adult emergence or shortened adult longevity, can have indirect effects on the colony such as premature shifts in hive roles and foraging activity. In addition, longer development time for bees may provide a reproductive advantage for parasitic