Assessing insecticide hazard to bumble bees foraging on flowering weeds in treated lawns

PLoS One. 2013 Jun 12;8(6):e66375. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066375. Print 2013.


Maintaining bee-friendly habitats in cities and suburbs can help conserve the vital pollination services of declining bee populations. Despite label precautions not to apply them to blooming plants, neonicotinoids and other residual systemic insecticides may be applied for preventive control of lawn insect pests when spring-flowering weeds are present. Dietary exposure to neonicotinoids adversely affects bees, but the extent of hazard from field usage is controversial. We exposed colonies of the bumble bee Bombus impatiens to turf with blooming white clover that had been treated with clothianidin, a neonicotinoid, or with chlorantraniliprole, the first anthranilic diamide labeled for use on lawns. The sprays were applied at label rate and lightly irrigated. After residues had dried, colonies were confined to forage for six days, and then moved to a non-treated rural site to openly forage and develop. Colonies exposed to clothianidin-treated weedy turf had delayed weight gain and produced no new queens whereas those exposed to chlorantraniliprole-treated plots developed normally compared with controls. Neither bumble bees nor honey bees avoided foraging on treated white clover in open plots. Nectar from clover blooms directly contaminated by spray residues contained 171±44 ppb clothianidin. Notably, neither insecticide adversely impacted bee colonies confined on the treated turf after it had been mown to remove clover blooms present at the time of treatment, and new blooms had formed. Our results validate EPA label precautionary statements not to apply neonicotinoids to blooming nectar-producing plants if bees may visit the treatment area. Whatever systemic hazard through lawn weeds they may pose appears transitory, however, and direct hazard can be mitigated by adhering to label precautions, or if blooms inadvertently are contaminated, by mowing to remove them. Chlorantraniliprole usage on lawns appears non-hazardous to bumble bees.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Bees / drug effects*
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Body Weight / drug effects*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Guanidines / analysis
  • Guanidines / toxicity
  • Insecticides / toxicity*
  • Kentucky
  • Medicago
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Plant Nectar / chemistry
  • Plant Weeds*
  • Reproduction / drug effects*
  • Thiazoles / analysis
  • Thiazoles / toxicity
  • ortho-Aminobenzoates / analysis
  • ortho-Aminobenzoates / toxicity


  • Guanidines
  • Insecticides
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Plant Nectar
  • Thiazoles
  • ortho-Aminobenzoates
  • clothianidin
  • chlorantranilipole

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the University of Kentucky's B.C. Pass Research Professorship and Graduate Assistantship. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.