After 300 Bees Die, Broward Beekeepers Concerned About Zika Spraying

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During Memorial Day Weekend, Chrissy Randall came home and found 300 dead bees in her Dania Beach back yard. Randall, a local beekeeper, recalls piles of nearly 100 of their tiny striped corpses in front of each of her three hives. She was devastated. 

"It was very upsetting," Randall tells New Times. "We called them our girls. You check on them, make sure they have water on hot days. They're almost like your pet, so to speak."

The spring and summer months have always brought increased mosquito spraying to South Florida. Local beekeepers have always been apprehensive about insecticide use. They say the harsh chemicals are just as fatal to bees and other bugs, like moths and butterflies, as they are to potentially virus-bearing mosquitoes. But to prevent the local transmission of Zika, Broward County has increased mosquito spraying and — as Miami residents protest the use of Naled, a controversial pesticide banned in Europe — began aerial spraying earlier this week too.

Anh Ton, director of Broward County's Mosquito Control Section, says Naled isn't being used in Broward. Instead, the county opted for a product called VectoBac WDG. The active ingredient is something called BTi. Whereas Naled kills adult mosquitos, Bti targets larvae. Ton is concerned about the dead bees found in Dania Beach, but he doesn't believe they are casualties of the county's increased mosquito spraying. 

"I’m certain that it wasn’t because of our spraying as we did not spray on Memorial Day Weekend," Ton said in a statement to New Times. "Some of our residents have questioned the reason for VectoBac (BTi) mainly because they confuse this product with Naled. When our residents understand that BTi is a naturally occurring, biodegradable, bacterial mosquito larvicide which is not harmful to humans, pets, bees, or aquatic habitats, they are supportive of this proactive approach to mosquito control during this public health emergency." 

Though the EPA says that BTi has "minimal toxicity" to bees, residents and local beekeepers are still worried. 

Leo Gosser, founder and former president of Broward Beekeepers, recommends setting hives away from the road and putting a sheet over them to lessen contact with the chemicals released during aerial spraying. He says that the increased spraying has long worried local beekeepers. "Ever since Zika spraying started in the Miami area, we've brought it up at meetings," Gosser says. "We're all very concerned and talk about what we can do to prevent damages."

Dara Kustler, a registered beekeeper in Broward, is uncomfortable with any insect-killing chemical being spread over the county. "We can't start playing God with chemicals," Kustler says. "It's hard to say we're only killing insect larvae and nothing else because it's all interrelated."

Judy Summers, a Victoria Park resident, wrote commissioners about her concerns. She believes mosquito spraying will potentially harm the many bees that pollinate flowers in her backyard. She is noticing more dead bees than ever before. "I just hope our leaders consider the deleterious effects of this stuff on the bees, the health of the community, and pregnant women," she says.

After the massive kill of 300 bees in her Dania Beach backyard, Chrissy Randall reports the survivors are more sluggish than ever. Their honey production, reproduction, and hive-building are down. "It's not like it was last year; it's much worse," Randall says. "Even if [the county is] not spraying in my backyard or near my house, bees go to other areas and pollinate other plants. It's a tricky issue."

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