Scientists Now Using Bumblebees to Deliver Organic Pesticides



The worker bee is famous for its industrious, teamwork nature. Scientists and researchers have found ways to make the worker bee work for them. Add the new job description of organic pesticide delivery to a bee’s resume.

Canadian researchers figure that if bees are already out pollinating their surroundings, why not have them do a little extra? The new system will use bees to transport and deliver natural pesticides and beneficial fungi directly to plants. Since bees are small and capable of being more precise than a typical industrial farm sprayer, farmers can use a tiny fraction of the pesticide they would normally use.

Originally developed by researchers at the University of Guelph, the bee-delivery system uses a tray filled with a patented mix of natural and beneficial microbes. The tray goes into an existing beehive. When bees head out to pollinate flowers and crops, they walk through the powder in the tray on their way out of the hive. The pesticide powder sticks to the bee’s legs and hair. The bees deliver tiny, beneficial spores stuck to their legs to crops and flowers as they make their pollination rounds.

Both varieties of bumblebees and honeybees have successfully distributed the fungus Beauveria bassiana to greenhouse sweet peppers and field canola. The fungus kills pests like whiteflies, aphids and Lygus. Researcher Les Shipp, a federal senior research scientist based in Harrow, Ontario, Canada states: “We’ve been able to use these to control pest and fungal diseases. We’re able to reduce some diseases by 80 per cent.”

Researchers have done years of testing to make sure the process is safe for bees. Besides the safety of the pesticide to bees, this new job is beneficial to bees and the environment. It will encourage farmers to keep beehives on their lands in order to have bees available to deliver the organic pesticides.

Because the bumblebees can deliver the powder directly to plants so precisely, pesticide runoff, a common problem with traditional pesticides, is avoided. Typically, a commercial pesticide is mixed with hundreds of gallons of water and then sprayed throughout the land. The majority of the pesticide mix ends up in the wrong place or in the water table from runoff.

The continuous and targeted pesticide delivery makes trees and their crop stronger and better. Normally, farmers spray orchards once or twice while apple trees are in bloom. But trees often bloom at different times meaning that parts of the orchard miss the spray. Bees can deliver their organic pesticide continuously, boosting fruit production.

The humble little bumblebee is likely to disrupt the multi-billion dollar super corporations that produce and promote synthetic pesticides. Farmers are likely to choose bumblebees to deliver their organic pesticides. Less of the expensive pesticide is required and the bees do a better job at delivering the material to plants and trees.

Scientists are now looking into other jobs that bees can do. A new generation of overworked, stressed out bees may be in the making.