Protecting Pollinators From Pesticides – 2019 Update

If I created a tolerance chart and asked you to mark down where you stand on your tolerance to insects in the garden, where would you be? Highly intolerant? In the middle? Want to invite them in? Perhaps your answer is different for your vegetable garden versus your flower garden?

When we spray for bugs we are using a type of pesticide called an insecticide. Together with other pesticides we apply to our lawns, gardens and agricultural fields, pesticides cause a variety of negative effects. They can be acutely toxic and cause death. Others may kill indirectly by negatively impacting a pollinator’s ability to successfully forage and reproduce. In addition, like understanding how our own medications may work together and cause harm, pesticides may be more toxic in combination.

Please do not spray either instantaneously upon first sight, or indiscriminately over the whole garden. Be judicious. Practice tolerance. Oversee the practices of your landscaper or lawncare company. Try to eliminate using pesticides entirely if you haven’t already.

Homeowner use of pesticides is probably one of the worst sources of overuse. Read labels before use for your own safety and that of the environment. Become familiar not only with how to properly mix and apply whatever you are using, but also with the active ingredients in the product you are using.

Toxic pesticides that are lethal to pollinators include:

  • Carbamates
  • Organophosphates
  • Synthetic pyrethroids
  • Chlorinated cylcodienes
  • Neonicotinoids

The most recent negative pesticide news has been about the neonicotinoid class of insecticides or “neonics” as they are called. Different chemicals in the neonic class include acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Look for these listed on the label as an active ingredient. For example, Imidacloprid, the most widely used insecticide in the world, is the active ingredient in a number of commercial products that go by the names Admire, Condifor, Gaucho, Premier, Premise, Provado, and Marathon. You might be interested to know that the EU banned the three main neonicotinoids (clothianidinimidacloprid and thiamethoxam) for all outdoor use this year and Canada is close to doing the same. An April 2019 report of a study by the University of Guelph shows that low dose neonic exposure interferes with the bee’s ability to clean themselves of Varroa mites. This loss can be deadly to these critically important insects.

Don’t let your eyes glaze over yet…. Here are a couple of helplful links.

  • The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published 10 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Neonics in 2018.
  • The Penn State Extension has published “What You Need To Know About Reading a Pesticide Label” that can be easily downloaded here. If you want to be more knowledgeable about what you are applying, it is worth being familiar with this.
  • If you are a homeowner that is treating your lawn for grubs, be aware that most chemicals in these pesticides are neonicotinoids. While this Michigan State University post offers good information about grub control, it fails to mention that other ground-dwelling insects as part of their life cycle (native bees, fireflies, etc.) will also likely be killed or at least negatively impacted.
  • Another organization that might be helpful is Beyond Pesticides