Comparative chronic toxicity of three neonicotinoids on New Zealand packaged honey bees


Thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and imidacloprid are the most commonly used neonicotinoid insecticides on the Canadian prairies. There is widespread contamination of nectar and pollen with neonicotinoids, at concentrations which are sublethal for honey bees (Apis mellifera Linnaeus).


We compared the effects of chronic, sublethal exposure to the three most commonly used neonicotinoids on honey bee colonies established from New Zealand packaged bees using colony weight gain, brood area, and population size as measures of colony performance.


From May 7 to July 29, 2016 (12 weeks), sixty-eight colonies received weekly feedings of sugar syrup and pollen patties containing 0 nM, 20 nM (median environmental dose), or 80 nM (high environmental dose) of one of three neonicotinoids (thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and imidacloprid). Colonies were weighed at three-week intervals. Brood area and population size were determined from digital images of colonies at week 12. Statistical analyses were performed by ANOVA and mixed models.


There was a significant negative effect (-30%, p<0.01) on colony weight gain (honey production) after 9 and 12 weeks of exposure to 80 nM of thiamethoxam, clothianidin, or imidacloprid and on bee cluster size (-21%, p<0.05) after 12 weeks. Analysis of brood area and number of adult bees lacked adequate (>80%) statistical power to detect an effect.


Chronic exposure of honey bees to high environmental doses of neonicotinoids has negative effects on honey production. Brood area appears to be less sensitive to detect sublethal effects of neonicotinoids.