Protecting Bees from Mosquito Spraying

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When municipalities wish to spray for mosquito control, they may be endangering the beehives of local beekeepers. How can you protect bees from mosquito spraying? Even homeowners face the problem of reducing insect pests while doing no harm to honey bees and native pollinators.

Mosquito spraying truck a danger to nearby beehives image.

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 and this exposes them to many honey bee predators and challenges.

Does Mosquito Spraying Kill Bees?

Unfortunately, it is not rare to hear of an entire apiary of beehives being killed by mosquito spraying.

When foraging bees are exposed to pesticides and insecticides some of the chemicals make it back to the hive. 

Harmful substances can be on the bodies of the bees, in fresh pollen or collected plant nectar. The chemical result in large loses of bee brood and can weaken even a strong colony. Handfuls of dead bees at the front of the hive is the most common sign of pesticide deaths.

The degree of damage done to a colony of bees depends on the specific insecticide used for mosquito control. Some are more toxic than others.

Mosquito and honey bee on vegetation exposed to pesticides image.

Pesticides vs Insecticides

Though the terms pesticides ands insecticides are 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. Both can do harm to honey bee colonies and countless numbers of native bees and pollinators.

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

Mosquito Control for Public Health

We all know that controlling the mosquito population is a very important goal. 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.

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Tips to Protect Beehives from Mosquito 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

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. Locate your local beekeeping association for more information.

If you live near farmers, reach out to them and request to know their spraying schedule. Most farmers appreciate hard working bees and know the value of bee pollination. 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.

Temporarily Moving Beehives Away

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. However, for the average beekeeper this method of protecting beehives from mosquito spraying may be too much work.

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. 

At dusk, once all the bees are in – cover the 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 beehive 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.

Locking Bees Inside Hive for Short Time

To ensure the bees stay inside, a screen cover over the entrance can allow some hive 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. As local officials what they plan to use as their mosquito insecticide.

Mosquito biting human is a health risk image.

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Bee-Friendly Alternatives to Chemical Mosquito Control

Municipalities are not the only ones involved in the war against insect pests. You can help reduce problems in your own backyard and help protect bees from mosquito spraying.

  • Remove containers of standing water-this is where mosquitos breed
  • 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 when first sprayed. But there are other choices that are not as toxic to bees.

Larvicide materials containing Methoprene and Bti kill mosquito larvae and are much safer for other beneficial insects. 

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 bees love to visit.

Promote Night Spraying

Insecticides are commonly dispensed through aerial spraying or truck-mounted fogger. Aerial spraying is harder to control than 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 day application of pesticides and insecticides.

Contact Local Agencies in Charge of Mosquito Control

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

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.

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

FAQs

Does mosquito spraying harm honeybees and native pollinators?

Mosquito spraying can harm honey bees and native pollinators too. The degree of harm depends on several factors including the insecticide used and the method of application.

How can beekeepers stay informed about mosquito spraying schedules in their area?

Beekeepers can stay informed about any mosquito spraying in their area by registering with local agricultural extensions found through beekeeping clubs.

Are there specific times of the day or year when bees are most vulnerable to mosquito spraying?

Bees are most active during the day in the warm months of the year. Unfortunately, this is when mosquitos present the most problems too. Try to avoid spraying during the day when the temperatures are warm.

A Final Word

This is just another facet of beehive management that we must deal with. 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 and protect bees from mosquito spraying.

The interest of the beekeeper and public agencies can collide over this issue. Still, this necessary service protects public health. 

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2 Comments

  1. Ingrid Carle says:

    My friend and I are wanting to possibly start in beekeeping. My friend has a farm and a swam has planted itself on the top. Mosquito abatement sprayed last night but the hive is still there in tact. Would it be safe to try and get them into hive boxes and start with them? Is possible, a quick response would be appreciated

  2. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Sure it is possible to try to start with them but at this time of year. Realize that it may not work.