Mystery Bee Kill: Causes Being Sought
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 18, 2013
CONTACT: Scott Hoffman Black, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, 503-449-3792, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mystery Bee Kill: Causes Being Sought
Wilsonville OR. — Tens of thousands of bumble bees and other pollinators were found dead under trees at the Target store in Wilsonville on Monday, June 17th. The discovery was a strange and ironic start to National Pollinator Week, a symbolic annual event intended to raise public awareness about the plight of bees.
The massive bee kill was first documented on Monday by Rich Hatfield, a conservation biologist with the Portland-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Several shoppers at the store called him to report that there were dead and dying bees all over the parking lot. Specifically, the bees were clustered under dozens of European linden trees. The Xerces Society is internationally known for their work on bee conservation.
“After several calls at the office I visited the Target store in Wilsonville and found a parking lot full of dead bumble bees underneath blooming European linden trees,” said Rich Hatfield. “They were literally falling out of the trees. To our knowledge this is one of the largest documented bumble bee deaths in the Western U.S. It was heartbreaking to watch.”
The cause of the bee deaths in unknown but there are two possibilities: acute pesticide poisoning, or a poisonous species of European linden tree.
The Xerces Society contacted the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) who responded by sending staff to collect samples of the bees and foliage from the trees. According to staff at the ODA, they will be working to determine whether pesticides were used at the site.
“We are very happy with the quick action by ODA to get to the site and collect bees for testing,” said Mace Vaughan, Pollinator Conservation Program Director for the Xerces Society. “We are hopeful they will move quickly to determine the cause of this catastrophe.”
Rich Hatfield estimated there were at least 25,000 dead bumble bees at the site, a number that likely represents the loss of more than 150 colonies. There were also dead honey bees, lady bird beetles and other beneficial insects. Bumble bees are especially important to agriculture in western Oregon, where they are considered vital pollinators of many berry crops and Willamette Valley seed crops.
“If the trees are indeed toxic they should be cut down and replaced by something that will provide non-toxic pollen and nectar for bees,” said Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director at the Xerces Society. “On the other hand, if pesticides are the cause, we need to spotlight this as a real-world lesson in the harm these toxic chemicals are causing to beneficial insects. It would be especially alarming to find out whether pesticides are the cause in this case because the linden trees are not even an agricultural crop. Any spraying that happened would have been done for purely cosmetic reasons.”
About The Xerces Society: The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs. The Society uses advocacy, education, and applied research to defend invertebrates. Over the past three decades, we have protected endangered species and their habitats, produced ground-breaking publications on insect conservation, trained thousands of farmers and land managers to protect and manage habitat, and raised awareness about the invertebrates of forests, prairies, deserts, and oceans.
The following photographs were taken by Rich Hatfield on June 17, 2013 outside of the Wilsonville, OR Target.