Local beekeepers concerned about possible impacts of mosquito spraying

FAIRBANKS, Alaska Beekeepers in the Fairbanks area are gathering together to figure out what may be affecting their bees. Local beekeeper Debra Reeves says she has been a beekeeper for 10 years and says she hasn't seen anything like the loss of bees over the past couple of years.

Beekeepers in the Fairbanks area are gathering together to figure out what may be affecting their bees.

"I have hundreds in front of my hives, hundreds, and not all of them are making it back to the hive. Those are the ones that have made it back to the hive," said Reeves. "In the last couple weeks I have visited numerous apiaries that have queen loss or colony collapse and no evidence of disease and that concerns me. Something is happening to our bees, and I'm trying to identify what that is."

Reeves says she has sent her dead bees off to a lab in Maryland to be tested to find out whether there is a disease killing her bees or whether it could be another source such as pesticides being sprayed at neighbor's houses. The local beekeeping community in Fairbanks has started a fundraiser to have their bees tested, as well as created a crowd sourced map of where neighbors are having their properties sprayed and where they are in location to apiaries, which is where bees are kept.

Coordinator of the Alaska Pesticide Control Program, Karin Hendrickson says right now, they don't have any evidence that mosquito spraying is affecting honeybees in Alaska. "One of the challenges when you're looking at bees, there's a lot of different things that can impact them, there's mites, there's funguses, there's viruses, we've had some really unusual weather, that's impacting their food sources, lots of different reasons. So when we're looking at pesticides, we have to figure out if could it be caused by pesticides or is it something else? And that can be really challenging," said Hendrickson.

According to Hendrickson, there are 5 or 6 companies in the Fairbanks area, spraying for mosquitoes, but the companies doing the majority of the residential spraying are Mosquito Authority and Mosquito Guard. Hendrickson says they have done inspections and those companies are using insecticides that are pyrethroids, a man-made version of pyrethrins which come from chrysanthemum flowers. There are pollinator protections on these insecticides, to protect bees from the impacts of the insecticides if followed correctly.

"As I said at this point, we don't have anything other than some sort of generalized concerns that we can really look into, but we would definitely really want to know if somebody had a specific issue where they said 'I have this going on at my hive,' we want to know. We need to keep track of those things," said Hendrickson.

According to Hendrickson, signs of possible pesticide poisoning include:
- A larger than normal pile of dead bees outside the hive
- A large number of twitching bees dying in front of the hive
- Bees with abnormally jerky, wobbly movements
- Bees spinning rapidly on their backs

Hendrickson requests that any beekeepers who do see possible signs of pesticide poisoning in their bees contact them at 1-800-478-2577. Be ready to provide photos or video of the incident, along with the time and location, information describing the previous health of the colony, how you believe the bees may have been exposed, and pesticide or parasite treatments you have applied to the hives. Also, collect dead/dying bees in a large ziplock and place it in a freezer. Select recently dead or dying bees – decaying bees will not provide good results. You will need to gather at least 100 bees.

This is a developing story.