Bee Safe Insecticides: Do They Exist? Which Ones Are the Best?

Bees play a crucial role in pollination, directly influencing the health of our ecosystem and the food we consume.

Their contribution to agriculture is undeniable, with a significant portion of the world’s food crops relying on these insects for pollination.

However, there’s a growing concern: bee populations are declining at an alarming rate.

One of the primary culprits behind this decline is the use of pesticides.

These chemicals, while effective in controlling pests, often have unintended consequences on non-target species, including bees.

In this article, let’s try to see if we can find a way to protect our crops without harming these crucial pollinators and helpful insects.

Bee Safe Insecticides
Small Carpenter Bees

Understanding Bee Safe Insecticides

So, what exactly are bee-safe insecticides? Simply put, these are insecticides that, when used as directed, pose minimal risk to bees.

Their formulation and application methods are designed to target pests without harming beneficial insects, especially pollinators like bees.

The importance of such insecticides cannot be overstated.

With the global reliance on bees for pollination, it’s imperative to find a balance between effective pest control and the protection of these vital insects.

This balance ensures that while we protect our crops from pests, we aren’t inadvertently harming the very insects that help these crops thrive.

Common Insecticides and Their Impact on Bees

Let’s see some common insecticides and understand their effects on bees.

Acetamiprid and Thiacloprid

These are among the least toxic active ingredients found in systemic insecticides.

Systemic insecticides are absorbed by plants, making the plant itself toxic to pests.

While many systemic insecticides can be harmful to bees, Acetamiprid and Thiacloprid have been identified as having a lower toxicity level, making them safer options when considering bee health.

Mating Eastern Carpenter Bees

Other Safe Alternatives

  • Sulfur: Often used as a fungicide, sulfur has a low toxicity level for bees and is considered safe when applied correctly.
  • Serenade: A biological fungicide, Serenade is derived from a bacterium and poses minimal risk to bees.
  • Herbicides: While primarily used to control unwanted plants, many herbicides have been found to be non-toxic to bees.
  • Garlic: Garlic extracts can act as a natural repellent for certain pests without harming bees.
  • Kaolin clay: When sprayed on plants, this clay forms a barrier that deters pests. It’s non-toxic to bees and other beneficial insects.
  • Corn gluten: A natural pre-emergent, corn gluten prevents weed seeds from germinating and is safe for bees.
  • Gibberellic acid: Used to promote plant growth, this organic compound doesn’t harm bees.
  • Acequinocyl: An acaricide, it’s used to control mites and has a low impact on bees.
  • Chlorantraniliprole: This insecticide targets specific pests and is considered less toxic to bees compared to other chemicals.

Widely Used Insecticides with Lower Risk

  • Bonide: Suitable for general use, Bonide is a brand that offers a range of products. Some of these products are formulated to be less harmful to bees.
  • Scotts Grubex: Targeting lawn pests, especially grubs, this product is designed to protect lawns without posing a significant threat to bees.

It’s essential to note that while these insecticides may pose a lower risk to bees, it’s crucial to follow label instructions and apply them correctly to ensure bee safety.

Bee Safe Insecticides for Specific Plants

  • Vegetable Gardens: Consider natural repellents like garlic or kaolin clay, which deter pests without harming bees.
  • Roses: Roses can attract certain pests, but using insecticides like Bonide, which is less harmful to bees, can be beneficial.

Homemade Bee Safe Insecticides

DIY solutions can be both effective and bee-friendly.

For instance, a mixture of water, soap, and a few drops of peppermint or neem oil can act as a repellent for certain pests without harming bees.

Longhorned Bees

Tips to Protect Bees When Using Pesticides

The use of pesticides is often necessary to protect crops from pests and diseases.

However, it’s crucial to ensure that these chemicals don’t adversely affect beneficial insects like bees.

Here are some practical tips to safeguard bees when using pesticides:

Wait Until the Petals Have Dropped

Bees are most active during a plant’s blooming phase, collecting nectar and pollen.

By waiting until the petals have fallen off before applying pesticides, you reduce the risk of direct exposure to bees.

Use Alternate Control Tactics

Before reaching for chemical solutions, consider manual methods to control pests.

Physically removing pests or using barriers can be effective and reduce the need for chemical interventions.

Choose Bee-Friendly Plants

Opt for plants that haven’t been treated with harmful pesticide residues.

Many nurseries and plant suppliers now offer “bee-friendly” plants, ensuring they’re safe for pollinators from the outset.

Apply Insecticides at the Right Time

Bees are typically active during the day, especially in warm and sunny conditions.

Applying insecticides in the late evening, night, or early morning, when bees are less active, can minimize their exposure.

Notify Beekeepers

If you’re aware of beekeepers in your vicinity, inform them before making a pesticide application.

This allows them to take preventive measures, such as temporarily relocating their hives or keeping the bees indoors during the application.

Understand Insecticide Toxicity Levels

Not all insecticides have the same impact on bees. Familiarize yourself with the toxicity levels of the products you use.

Labels often provide information on the product’s safety concerning bees, ranging from most hazardous to reasonably safe.

Making informed choices can significantly reduce the risk to bee populations.

By following these guidelines, it’s possible to strike a balance between effective pest control and the protection of our invaluable pollinators.

Addressing Common Questions

What insecticide is safe around bees?

Insecticides such as Acetamiprid and Thiacloprid are among the least toxic to bees.

Additionally, natural repellents like garlic and kaolin clay have been found to deter pests without harming bees.

Which insecticide is not harmful to honey bees?

Sulfur, Serenade, and herbicides are examples of treatments that typically pose minimal risks to honey bees when applied correctly.

What is the best insecticide for honey bees?

The best insecticides are those that effectively control pests without harming bees.

Options like Acequinocyl and Chlorantraniliprole target specific pests and are considered less toxic to bees.

Is imidacloprid safe for honey bees?

Imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide. While it’s effective against pests, there are concerns about its impact on honey bees.

Studies have shown that it can affect bee behavior and health, making it essential to use with caution and according to label instructions.

Conclusion

The decline in bee populations is a pressing concern, and the role of pesticides cannot be overlooked.

While pesticides are essential for crop protection, it’s crucial to use them responsibly.

Continued research is needed to develop solutions that strike a balance between effective pest control and bee safety.

As consumers and gardeners, being informed and making conscious choices can go a long way in protecting our vital pollinators.

Encouraging responsible pesticide use is not just beneficial for bees but for the entire ecosystem and our future food security.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Dangerous Pesticides

pollinating bugs dying
Dear Bugman,
I have been researching the bees dying and thought it would be a good idea for you to add this information on your site. Although beekeepers cannot name any products, I have been informed by beekeepers that a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids was introduced 3 years ago by Bayer Crop Science.

These neonicotinoids are, I believe, nicotine derived. I am told they cause loss of memory, loss of appetite, disorieinted behavior and weakened immune system in bugs. I called Bayer customer help and was told the names of the products they sell which contain neonicotinoids.

These are Admire, Provado, Calypso, Poncho, Gaucho, and TriMax. Admire is promoted as a pesticide for flowers. Tell everyone there is a possibility that this product is killing the pollinators which obviously means the Sphinx moths.

Three years ago where these products were introduced to the environment bees showed failure to eat and disoriented behavior and then days later abandoned the hive, queen and larvae, just disappearing.

Logically I find that if there is even the smallest possibility that these 6 products are killing the bees, then it is imperative to immediately halt the use of these products. After all, what sane farmer would ever desire to kill off all the bees? Another frightening aspect is that it is not only the bees that are disappearing but also all other polllinators, wasps, hornets, hummingbirds and even bats that eat the bugs.

We may be looking famine in the face in only 2 years if this is not stopped. 50% of the bees in California are gone. A bee keeper with 10,000 hives lost all 10,000 this year. For moe information there is a highly respected beekeeper you may contact, David Hackenberg of Hackenberg Apiaries in Pennsylvania. His cell number is 813-713-1239.

Also the website Maarec has information. Bee Alert is another resource. So far I seem to be the only one who is crying out for sanity. How much time will pass getting testing and proof that it really is the neonicotinoids?

I have talked to my senator’s office, my congressmens aides, my state representative and everyone I can think of to stop the use of these neonicotinoids while there is still time. Please contact your local agricultural college or university student union and let the students know what about this disaster.
Thank you,
Sharilyn Wood Stalling

Hi Sharilyn
While we can neither confirm nor deny what you have stated, we are creating a special Pesticide page for your letter.

We do not use pesticides in our garden and we have never endorsed extermination. The decline of bee populations can be traced to other problems as well, including hive mites. Thank you for championing this cause.

Letter 2 – Save the Bug!!!!

Bug killers
As I was going through this site, which by the way is very informative.I couldn’t help but get disturbed. Why is it that people just kill things not knowing anything about it. I spent 2 hours the other night trying to save a great black wasp.Finally it was free. I came in here to learn about the creature.

As you stated it is very non-agressive It practically let me rescue it with my hand without me even being afraid.I think your sight is great and to all the people who do not know that it is wrong to kill anything, especially just to take a picture of it,it is wrong. I will never understand!

Letter 3 – Dangerous Pesticides

pollinating bugs dying
Dear Bugman,
I have been researching the bees dying and thought it would be a good idea for you to add this information on your site. Although beekeepers cannot name any products, I have been informed by beekeepers that a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids was introduced 3 years ago by Bayer Crop Science.

These neonicotinoids are, I believe, nicotine derived. I am told they cause loss of memory, loss of appetite, disorieinted behavior and weakened immune system in bugs. I called Bayer customer help and was told the names of the products they sell which contain neonicotinoids.

These are Admire, Provado, Calyps
o, Poncho, Gaucho, and TriMax. Admire is promoted as a pesticide for flowers. Tell everyone there is a possibility that this product is killing the pollinators which obviously means the Sphinx moths.

Three years ago where these products were introduced to the environment bees showed failure to eat and disoriented behavior and then days later abandoned the hive, queen and larvae, just disappearing. Logically I find that if there is even the smallest possibility that these 6 products are killing the bees, then it is imperative to immediately halt the use of these products. After all, what sane farmer would ever desire to kill off all the bees?

Another frightening aspect is that it is not only the bees that are disappearing but also all other polllinators, wasps, hornets, hummingbirds and even bats that eat the bugs. We may be looking famine in the face in only 2 years if this is not stopped. 50% of the bees in California are gone. A bee keeper with 10,000 hives lost all 10,000 this year.

For moe information there is a highly respected beekeeper you may contact, David Hackenberg of Hackenberg Apiaries in Pennsylvania. His cell number is 813-713-1239. Also the website Maarec has information. Bee Alert is another resource. So far I seem to be the only one who is crying out for sanity. How much time will pass getting testing and proof that it really is the neonicotinoids?

I have talked to my senator’s office, my congressmens aides, my state representative and everyone I can think of to stop the use of these neonicotinoids while there is still time. Please contact your local agricultural college or university student union and let the students know what about this disaster.
Thank you,
Sharilyn Wood Stalling

Hi Sharilyn
While we can neither confirm nor deny what you have stated, we are creating a special Pesticide page for your letter. We do not use pesticides in our garden and we have never endorsed extermination. The decline of bee populations can be traced to other problems as well, including hive mites. Thank you for championing this cause.

Letter 4 – Justifiable Insecticide???

Dangerous , deadly or painful bugs.
February 11, 2010
I was looking for a way to identify a few bugs in my home. It would be helpful if the search included criteria such as how many legs , wings etc.
Also , I can’t understand why you would include an unnecessary carnage page and not have a page dedicated to which insects known to man actually are dangerous , deadly or have a painful sting or bite even if they are not venomous.

It renders the UC page pointless if you don’t list all the bugs which aren’t unnecessarily killed.
Sure I love living things , but not if they bite or crawl into my ear when I’m sleeping.
So please include a list of those bugs . It’s very hard to find the information elsewhere .
TM

Hi TM,
We just might take you up on this suggestion.  We can call the page Justifiable Homicide.  We would definitely put Argentine Ants and Aphids at the top of the list.  Some creatures like Black Widows might be dangerous, but we could never include them on a Justifiable Insecticide, though they might be sub-categorized on that page.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

1 thought on “Bee Safe Insecticides: Do They Exist? Which Ones Are the Best?”

  1. What? Aphids? Aphids are cool! Ever tasted one?

    I reckon that probably the only justifiable carnage is when dealing with introduced pest species, or when eating. Mmm…

    Reply

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