World's Most Used Pesticide Has A Worrying Effect On Bees' Social Lives

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Pesticides might just be a bee's worst enemy. They harm their brains, hinder their reproduction, and even kill their buzz. Now it seems they play havoc with their social lives and reduce their ability to care for their young. 

While previous studies have shown that commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides make bees sick and affect how they forage and navigate, a new study gives more of an idea of how these chemicals affect the internal workings of a colony. Studying these effects has proved difficult, so the team employed a new technique. They stuck tiny QR codes to the backs of bumblebees and tracked their movements using a robotic camera. 

The researchers looked at 12 colonies housed in a lab, giving some the same level of imidacloprid – the world's most commonly used pesticide – that they’d be exposed to in the wild while keeping others pesticide-free as controls. They checked on them for a few minutes 12 times a day. The findings are published in the journal Science.

Unfortunately, the researchers found a number of notable differences between the bees exposed to the pesticide and the controls. The bees given neonicotinoids spent less time interacting with other bees and more time resting. This lull in activity tended to happen more at night, but the researchers aren’t sure why.

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