Bad news for bee buzzing

Study finds that controversial pesticides may be harming the ability of bumblebees to buzz.

Close up of a White Tailed Bumblebee on a Wild Parsnip flower.

The neonicotinoid pesticides, often referred to as neonics, could be affecting how bumblebees pollinate key commercial food crops such as potatoes.


A study compared the effect of different field-realistic doses of a neonictinoid on the buzzing of white-tailed bumblebees.

Unlike in standard forms of pollination, the bees can’t collect pollen just by brushing if off the plants’ anthers.

Instead bees need to perform buzz pollination for plants such as potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines.

The pollen is stored inside the anther and bees need to shake it out through vibrating, or buzzing. This type of pollination is unique to bees.

The results suggest that the insecticide was affecting their ability to learn how to perform this type of pollination, and so their ability to collect more pollen over time.


“The study adds to [previous] studies that neonicotinoids reduce learning and memory in bees,” said Dr Penelope Whitehorn, who led the study. “As well as the pollination services that they can provide.”