Frame of adult bees who have died on emergence.

What to do if you suspect your honey bee colonies are harmed by pesticides

November 16, 2023 Author: <milbrat2@msu.edu>, <heckanar@msu.edu>

If you suspect that your honey bee colonies have been harmed by pesticides, it is important to quickly report the incident. Make sure that you have reason to suspect that your colony loss was indeed linked to pesticides, like the presence of exceptional numbers of dead bees in front of the hives. Other colony threats such as viruses can cause dramatic losses. If you aren't sure if the type of death is pesticide-related, you can contact Michigan State University Extension.

Step 1: Take photos and videos of the hives and of dead or dying bees. Don't manipulate the hive or take any other action until an inspector has visited and collected information. You will need the samples to be officially collected.

Step 2: Contact Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). They can be reached by phone at 1-800-292-3939, by email at MDA-Info@Michigan.gov, or through the MDARD Online Contact Form. Pesticide complaints are handled by the Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division

Explain that you suspect pesticide misuse and tell them "I would like to register a pesticide complaint". It is important to be specific. For example, let them know why you suspect you have a bee kill from pesticides or if your neighbor sprayed pesticides and they drifted into your yard. Your information will be passed to someone in the Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division. They should return your call within 1-2 business days. They will ask more questions of you, fill out a report, and give you a case number. The specialist will gather information about your complaint: your name, address and contact information, the name address and contact information of the person or company you believe is responsible for the pesticide use, and a brief description of the complaint (what occurred, what you observed, and any information you have already learned from conversations you had with the applicator, if any). A request for investigation will be assigned to an inspector in the region of the state where the incident occurred.

MDARD pesticide inspectors strive to respond to complaints within 1-2 business days to gather additional information. If a site visit is warranted, they will make arrangements; they will also collect official samples.

Pesticide inspectors may not have a lot of experience with honey bees. It may be necessary for the beekeeper to be present during an investigation, especially if hives need to be opened to collect samples or to make observations related to brood loss.

The investigator will follow the EPA Guidance for Inspecting Alleged Cases of Pesticide-Related Bee Incidents, and it is a good idea to look over the guidance to know what they will need to do. The MDARD investigator may swab the top of the hives and will likely take a sample of dying bees, so make sure that you don't take any action that will prevent them from taking samples. The investigator may also go out to a nearby orchard/field to take samples and get spray records from the growers. MDARD will then test the samples and use all of the information to determine if they can show that your honey bee loss was due to a misuse of pesticides.

North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Sciences (NCDACS) created videos in conjunction with the National Pesticide Safety Education Center (NPSEC) on bee kill investigations by pesticide applicators and Managing Hive Pests through Pesticide Use.

The EPA held a two-day online training on investing suspected pesticide related bee kill complaints, and the recordings are available online:

Pesticide kill.jpg
Bees killed by pesticides collected from in front of an exposed hive. Photo by Dan Wyns

Frequently Asked Questions:

1) Will I get any money if I lose my colonies? 

Michigan does not have any funding or legislation to compensate beekeepers for colonies lost to pesticides. MDARD can only indicate if a pesticide label violation has occurred. You can request this information via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which can be used in a civil case. You may also be able to work out an arrangement directly with the grower to compensate you for your losses.

2) How long will the process take? 

MDARD will have to collect a lot of information, and this process takes a while. For example, growers have 30 days to record pesticide applications. If a violation is found, MDARD will begin the enforcement process. Your case will be one of many cases that the office investigates, and it may take up to 120 days to complete the investigation.

3) Is it important for me to call right away? 

Keep in mind that pesticides can break down quickly. If you do not begin the investigation immediately, your samples may be negative for certain pesticides, even if a spray incident had occurred in the past. It is important for the samples to be fresh. The key to detecting certain pesticides is for MDARD to preserve a good sample.

4) Do I need to also contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? 

No, MDARD has an agreement with the EPA and will provide all the information from the case to the EPA.

5) Do I need to contact the state apiarist? 

No, in Michigan, the state apiarist and pesticide division are in the same agency, so they will be in communication. If needed, the pesticide staff will contact the state apiarist for assistance, but pesticide inspectors are trained to do a pesticide misuse investigation.

6) If I don't get compensation, why should I report a bee kill? 

It is important for regulators, researchers, and beekeepers to know how widespread pesticide-related issues are in the state and what can be done to reduce them. If bee kills are not reported, it is hard to get funding for programs to reduce pesticide exposure to bees or to show that pesticides are a problem.

7) Can I call MDARD to test samples even if I don't suspect a violation of the label? 

No, MDARD's enforcement is conducted to address violations of law and violations of pesticide labels. If you would like to have hive products tested, you can use a laboratory service. The Apiary Inspectors of America maintains a list of labs that provide this type of service. 

8) Is there guidance on how to protect bees from pesticides?

Michigan’s Pollinator Protection Plan is intended to improve and protect the health of pollinators in Michigan while simultaneously protecting crops, property, and human health. The Michigan Pollinator Protection Plan is led by Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Michigan State University has implemented many of the strategies in the plan to compile resources for growers and develop pollinator stewardship resources

Michigan State University offers free, online courses that provide information on pollinator health:

Pollinator Protection for Land Managers is an online course for landscapers and land managers to learn how they can support bees and other pollinators.


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