'Dead, dying, twitching, drunk-like bees were exposed to corn insecticide. The Star Press (Indiana)

MUNCIE — In late April of 2012, Madison County beekeeper David Barrickman noticed live bees pushing dead bees out of their hives.

It was a scene repeated at half a dozen other bee colonies throughout the state that spring, and just one of many stresses on the world’s rapidly declining population of domestic honeybees, whose hard work produces more than just honey and beeswax used in cosmetics, candles, salves, ointments, chewing gum and crayons.

One of every three bites of food we eat, including apples, peaches, almonds and watermelon, is from a crop pollinated by honey bees, according to the Center for Food Safety. Without bees and other pollinators, such as wild bees, ants, beetles, wasps, birds, butterflies and bats, we wouldn’t have much to eat or look at, including wildflowers.

Suspecting the deaths were related to corn having been planted recently in farm fields within the 1 ½-mile radius where the bees foraged, Barrickman called the Office of the Indiana State Chemist (OISC). He then collected and froze two plastic bags of dead bees.

The state chemist’s lab detected 3.3 parts per billion of the insecticide clothianidin in the bees. Corn seeds are coated with clothianidin prior to planting to protect them from soil pests.

While the target of the insecticide is is rootworms, cutworms and other soil pests, it is also killing honey bees.

“OISC did receive an extraordinary number of bee kill complaints (eight),” the state chemist’s pesticide section disclosed in its 2012 annual report. “OISC investigations determined that the insecticide clothianidin was involved in the bee deaths. OISC has committed to work with the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the coming year to ... address this unanticipated route of pesticide exposure to honey bees.”

State chemist pesticide investigators also linked clothianidin to piles of dead, dying, twitching, “drunk-like,” disoriented, sluggish and spastic bees inside and outside of hives adjacent to corn fields in Wabash, Hendricsk, Clinton, Gibson and Tippecanoe counties during the planting season in April-May of 2012.