While attempting to control the local population of Zika-carrying mosquitos, there has been some major collateral damage. After using planes to spray tracts of land in South Carolina with insecticide, locals have found millions of dead honey bees littering the landscape, wiping out businesses and destroying entire colonies in one fell swoop.
The step up in attempts to control the mosquitoes came after four cases of travel-related Zika were confirmed in Dorchester County, South Carolina. In response to this, officials decided to conduct aerial sprays of the pesticide "naled". While it's common practice to use the chemical to control pests in the US (even though it has been linked to bee deaths and harm to aquatic and terrestrial insects), this is the first time the county decided to spray from planes, leaving those living in the area vastly underprepared.
Normally, the county sprays from trucks between the hours of 9pm and 5am during the week, which is when the bees are in the hive at night. The plane, however, flew between 6.30am and 8.30am, at a time when the bees are more likely to be out of the hive foraging. “Dorchester County is aware that some beekeepers in the area that was sprayed on Sunday lost their beehives,” County Administrator Jason Ward said Tuesday, according to The Post and Courier. “I am not pleased that so many bees were killed.” Officals have stated that the sprayer failed to contact those farmers affected by mistake.
According to beekeeper Juanita Stanley, who co-owns Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply (who posted a video online), by not properly informing them of the planned flight so they could take precautions and protect the bees, it has resulted in the death of more than 2.3 million bees from 46 hives. “My bee yard looks like it’s been nuked,” she said.
Yet, while it's obviously disastrous to the bees and their keepers, the impact of the spraying is likely to be far worse still. Honey bees are just one of many thousands of species of insects that are vital for the pollination of plants and commercially important crops. If the insecticide has had such a devastating impact on the bees, then it has likely had an equally ruinous impact on other insects, and could take a long time for their numbers to recover.
With Zika now confirmed to have been spread by mosquitoes in Florida, the authorities are rightly concerned about the threat of more infections. In order to try and mitigate this, a widespread mosquito control campaign across many of the southern states is in place, yet experts warn that rather than undertaking such knee-jerk reactions, more consideration needs to take place.