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How to Protect Bees from Mosquito Spraying

Though it might sound a bit strange, beekeeping is farming.  Beekeepers are farmers who cannot control their livestock.  Bees forage far and wide every day the weather is suitable. This can be a problem with municipalities that wish to spray for mosquito control. Even a homeowner faces the problem of reducing pests while avoiding harm to the bees. How can you protect your beehives from mosquito spraying?

Controlling Mosquitos Without Harming Bees

Mosquito spraying truck a danger to nearby beehives image.

The interest of the beekeeper and public agencies can collide over the issue of mosquito spraying.  This is a necessary service that protects public health. 

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However, mosquito sprays can and have killed vast numbers of bee colonies.  What is the beekeeper to do? 

Honey bees have a mission to do and they go about their tasks every day. Foragers venture from the hive looking for plant nectar, pollen, and water. 

The colony has thousands of worker bees to do the job of bringing resources back to the hive. Unfortunately, these hard-working bees sometimes bring back other things. 

Mosquito and honey bee on vegetation exposed to pesticides image.

Mosquito Control for Public Health

We all know that controlling the mosquito population is a very important goal.  Those little bloodsuckers can turn a beautiful Summer evening into a nightmare.  Buzzing around your ears, biting your skin, drinking your blood – you get the picture.

Beyond the discomfort of dealing with mosquitos, they pose a serious threat to public health.  In addition to causing many diseases such as West Nile Virus and Zikia virus, mosquito bites can cause cellulitis.

Furthermore, they also spread diseases such as heartworms to our dogs and cats.  We can all agree that the mosquito population needs to be kept to a minimum. The challenge is to eliminate dangerous pests without damaging beneficial insects and wildlife.

Pesticides vs Insecticides

Though these terms as often used interchangeably, they are a bit different. Pesticides is the name used for a broad group of chemicals that kill bacteria, fungus, plant disease and insects.

Insecticides is the term given to those chemicals that specifically target insects. Therefore, all insecticides are pesticides but not all pesticides are insecticides. However, both can do harm to honey bee colonies.

When foraging bees are exposed to pesticides and insecticides some of the material makes it back to the hive.  Harmful substances can be on the bodies of the bees or in collected pollen or plant nectar used to make honey.

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These chemicals brought back to the hive can result in many bee deaths. Large loses of developing brood can weaken even a strong colony. Handfuls of dead bees at the front of the hive is the most common sign of pesticide deaths.

Dead honey bees at hive entrance killed by mosquito spraying image.

Beekeepers Tips to Protect Bees from Spraying

Dangerous insect pests must be controlled, and spraying is a necessary evil in many locations.  So, what’s a beekeeper to do to limit the effect on honey bee colonies.

  • register with local authorities for notification of mosquito spraying
  • in urban areas place hives away from road
  • consider moving hives during season if near crops
  • covering hives to minimize harm

Register to Receive Notification of Spraying for Bee Protection

Contact your local agency in charge of spraying.  Make sure officials know where you are and that you have beehives.  

If you don’t know who to contact, the agricultural department of each state can direct you to the appropriate agency. Most states do have a system in place to warn beekeepers.

If you live near farmers, reach out to them and request to know their spraying schedule.  Most farmers appreciate hard working bees.  If you approach them in the right way, they are more inclined to help.

Hive Placement Away from Street Spraying

If you live in a region where street spraying or fogging from a truck is common, do not place your bees near the road.  Choose a location (if your property allows) as far away from the spray or drift zone as possible.

Though not commonly thought of when choosing the best location for a beehive. Those of you living in regions where mosquito spraying is a routine all Summer need to consider a plan to cope.

Airplane being used to spray chemicals on crop field image.

Moving Beehives Away from Mosquito Spray Area

Moving your hives to another location may be an option but it is a lot of work.   One of the reasons honey bees are good for pollination is the ability to move the entire colony from one spot to another.

The hives must be screened at night after all foragers are in and moved to the new location.  Hives are heavy and things can go wrong during relocation. 

However, for the average beekeeper this method of protecting beehives from mosquito spraying may be too much work. Also, you may not have anywhere to move them to.

Covering Beehives to Minimize Pesticide Spray Impact

Covering beehives is one of the most common ways beekeepers protect beehives from pesticide spraying. Though it is not always effective, it may be the only option when you know aerial spraying is scheduled. 

Beekeepers can cover their hives with wet burlap, cotton, or similar material.  This is to keep the bees from foraging and the wet material can assist in helping keep the hive cool. 

Plastic can be draped over the hives if the entrance is closed with wire but you don’t want to overheat your bees – they must be able to ventilate themselves.

To ensure the bees stay inside, a screen cover over the entrance can allow some ventilation.  And the bees should be released as soon as conditions allow. 

If you live in a hot region, trying to lock up your hives or cover them up may create more bee deaths than the spray. 

On the plus side, some of the mosquito insecticides used dissipate and become less toxic quickly – requiring the beehives to be closed for a shorter period.

Some beekeepers create large wire cages (similar to tomato plant cages) that will loosely fit over their hives. These are covered with cotton sheeting material. 

This allows some air to flow through while containing the bees inside the hive with a rolled wire entrance block.

In areas where early morning spraying is done, confining the bees for a few hours may give the chemicals time to become less volatile.

Mosquito biting human is a health risk image.

Killing Mosquitoes While Protecting Backyard Pollinators

Municipalities are not the only ones involved in the war against insect pests.  You can help reduce mosquito problems in your own backyard too.

  • Remove containers of standing water
  • Use granular pesticides and insecticides instead of sprays where possible
  • If you must spray do so late in the evening
  • Try mosquito dunks (Bacillus thuringensis israelensis)
  • Do not spray pesticides on blooming plants
  • When hives are nearby – do not spray on windy days
  • be an advocate for pollinators with local agencies

Use Least Toxic Option

There are several different chemicals used for mosquito control.  Some of them kill the mosquito in the larval stage and others are directed at adults. 

The degree to which bees are affected depends on the amount of exposure and toxicity of the chemical used. A popular product is Naled which is highly toxic to other insects. These chemicals are regulated and approved by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

Spray is usually applied to vegetation and weeds where mosquitos like to go to rest. Unfortunately, other insects may be there as well. There are many weeds that bloom and feed honey bees.

Without a doubt, finding the best method of control is a delicate balance. But, officials can choose insecticides that control mosquitos but are not as toxic to bees.  Larvicide materials containing Methoprene and Bti kill mosquito larvae and are much safer for other beneficial insects. 

Encourage local officials to use the most bee friendly option while still protecting public health. A bit of positive public pressure can make a difference. Likewise, choose the least toxic formula for your own yard and garden

Promote Night Spraying to Protect Bee Colonies

Insecticides are commonly dispensed through aerial spraying or truck-mounted fogger. Aerial spraying harder to control that street spraying.

Spraying late in the day or at night when bees are inside the hive, but mosquitos are active is the best case.  Most authorities spray at dusk – the later in the evening they wait the better for your bees.

The homeowner should always aim for late date application of pesticides and insecticides. Bees are less active late in the day.

Contact Local Agencies in Charge of Mosquito Control

Beekeepers are somewhat at the mercy of local officials in charge of mosquito control. In recent years, the plight of bees, butterflies and other pollinators has been a news item.

This had led to a closer look at chemicals used for mosquito spraying and resulting in positive changes in many locations.  However, that is not always the case.

Protecting honey bees and humans requires a balance in regards to pest insect control.  With a bit of care on the part of the agencies involved and the beekeepers – we can do both.

Good planning and possibly hive coverings can help save some bee lives. Also, providing a water source that you control is a great way to lessen the chance of them collecting contaminated water.

This is just another facet of beehive management that each beekeeper faces.  Our goal to have healthy honey bee colonies does involve some things that are out of our everyday control.  We must do the best we can to mitigate adverse effects.