Assessment of the environmental exposure of honeybees to particulate matter containing neonicotinoid insecticides coming from corn coated seeds

Environ Sci Technol. 2012 Mar 6;46(5):2592-9. doi: 10.1021/es2035152. Epub 2012 Feb 17.


Since seed coating with neonicotinoid insecticides was introduced in the late 1990s, European beekeepers have reported severe colony losses in the period of corn sowing (spring). As a consequence, seed-coating neonicotinoid insecticides that are used worldwide on corn crops have been blamed for honeybee decline. In view of the currently increasing crop production, and also of corn as a renewable energy source, the correct use of these insecticides within sustainable agriculture is a cause of concern. In this paper, a probable--but so far underestimated--route of environmental exposure of honeybees to and intoxication with neonicotinoid insecticides, namely, the atmospheric emission of particulate matter containing the insecticide by drilling machines, has been quantitatively studied. Using optimized analytical procedures, quantitative measurements of both the emitted particulate and the consequent direct contamination of single bees approaching the drilling machine during the foraging activity have been determined. Experimental results show that the environmental release of particles containing neonicotinoids can produce high exposure levels for bees, with lethal effects compatible with colony losses phenomena observed by beekeepers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Anabasine / analysis
  • Anabasine / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Bees / drug effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Guanidines / analysis
  • Insecticides / analysis
  • Insecticides / toxicity*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Particle Size
  • Particulate Matter / chemistry*
  • Seeds / chemistry*
  • Thiazoles / analysis
  • Zea mays / chemistry*


  • Guanidines
  • Insecticides
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Particulate Matter
  • Thiazoles
  • clothianidin
  • Anabasine