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Pesticide Cause Death of 25,000 Bumblebees in Oregon

Update Date: Jun 22, 2013 05:38 PM EDT

Wilsonville, Or., woke up last Saturday to a shocking scene. In a parking lot, about 25,000 bumblebees lay dead in what Xerces Society has called the largest known incident of bumblebee deaths in the United States.

Oregon Department of Agriculture has said that the active ingredient in the insecticide Safari, a neonicotinoid pesticide,  is responsible for the bee and insect deaths, and that the insecticide was originally sprayed to control for aphids.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture took notice of the incident after the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation reported of bees and other insects falling out of 55 blooming European linden trees Monday.

After the first deaths registered on Saturday, the bees kept dying until Wednesday. According to the, "Yellow-faced bees fell from the trees, twitching on their backs or wandering in tight circles on the asphalt. Some honeybees and ladybugs were also found dead. A few dead bumblebees even clung to linden flowers, while hundreds littered the lot."

"I've never encountered anything quite like it in 30 years in the business," said Dan Hilburn, director of plant programs at the state Agriculture Department, following his inspection of the damage.

After sprayed with Safari, the plant, the leaves, flowers and nectar become toxic to almost all insects. The product's label makes it clear that the pesticide is "highly toxic" to bees and tells applicators not to apply it "if bees are visiting the area."

"Bumblebees are the single most important natural pollinator in Oregon," said Mace Vaughan, pollinator program director for Xerces.

They are vital in the pollination of berries, flowers and other plants. The decline of the honeybee, whose populations have been decimated by Colony Collapse Disorder, has received much attention, but bumblebee populations are shrinking as well.

According to OregonLive, the Agriculture Department "is working with the Xerces Society to help mitigate any further insect deaths at Argyle Square. As precautionary moves, they are considering either putting up netting around the trees, stripping off flowers and leaves or finding non-toxic repellents to keep bees and insects from eating the leaves or nectar."

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