SUMMERVILLE, S.C. — The pictures are heartbreaking: Millions of honeybees lie dead after being sprayed with an insecticide targeting Zika-carrying mosquitoes.
“On Saturday, it was total energy, millions of bees foraging, pollinating, making honey for winter,” beekeeper Juanita Stanley said. “Today, it stinks of death. Maggots and other insects are feeding on the honey and the baby bees who are still in the hives. It’s heartbreaking.”
Stanley, co-owner of Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply in Summerville, South Carolina, said she lost 46 beehives — more than 3 million bees — in mere minutes after the spraying began Sunday morning.
“Those that didn’t die immediately were poisoned trying to drag out the dead,” Stanley said. “Now, I’m going to have to destroy my hives, the honey, all my equipment. It’s all contaminated.”
Stanley said Summerville Fire Capt. Andrew Macke, who keeps bees as a hobby, also lost thousands of bees. She said neither of them had protected their hives because they didn’t know about the aerial spraying.
“Andrew has two hives,” Stanley said. “He didn’t know they were going to spray. His wife called him. His bees are at their porch right by their home, and she saw dead bees everywhere.”
It’s a tragedy that could be repeated across the country as cases of Zika continue to rise and local mosquito control districts struggle to protect their residents and ease local fears.
The spray fell from the skies between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. Sunday. It was the first aerial spraying in 14 years, according to Dorchester County Administrator Jason Ward, part of the county’s efforts to combat Zika after four local residents were diagnosed with the virus.
“We chose Sunday morning because few people would be out and about that early on a weekend,” Ward said. “To protect the bees, you don’t want to spray after the sun has been up more two hours, so we scheduled it early.”
The county used a product called Trumpet, which contains the pesticide naled, recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for control of adult Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits Zika.
According to the manufacturer’s label (PDF), Trumpet is “highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops or weeds. To minimize hazard to bees, it is recommended that the product is not applied more than two hours after sunrise or two hours before sunset, limiting application to times when bees are least active.”
“We followed that recommendation,” said Ward, “which is also the policy laid out by the state, using a pesticide the state has approved for use.”
Ward says the county also notified residents of the spraying by posting a notice on its website at 9 a.m. Friday, two days before the spraying. He added that it alerted beekeepers who were on the local mosquito control registry by phone or email, a common practice before truck spraying.
“That’s true when they sprayed by trucks; they told me in advance, and we talked about it so I could protect my bees,” Stanley said. “But nobody called me about the aerial spraying; nobody told me at all.”
Stanley said she “would have been screaming and pleading on their doorstep if they had.”
” ‘Do it at night when bees are done foraging,’ I would have told them,” she added, breaking into tears. “But they sprayed at 8 a.m. Sunday, and all of my bees were out, doing their work by then.”
Macke was also not informed, Ward said, because he, like many hobby beekeepers, is not on the local mosquito control registry.
“We are obviously saddened by the fact people have lost their hives, and we have gone back and looked at our procedures,” Ward said. “We will now give up to five days of advance notice, and we have expanded our list to include more local beekeepers.”
Stanley says she doesn’t think there was malice involved, but that doesn’t make the loss of her “honey girls” any less painful.
“This wasn’t about the honey,” she said. “It was about raising bees and selling them to other people, and spreading the honey girls out there into the world. Now, I can’t help anyone anymore, because all of them are dead.”