Scientists kill the buzz around new pesticide sulfoxaflor

Christopher Davidson
August 18, 2018

A newly developed pesticide that could soon be introduced in the United Kingdom poses a serious threat to bumblebees, research suggests.

The EU-wide ban on most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides was generally seen as good news for Europes bees, but such restrictions will only help if the chemicals that replace them are less harmful.

Sulfoxaflor, the first branded sulfoximine-based insecticide, is now licensed for use in 47 countries around the world, and is under review for licensing in the UK. In a report published today (August 15) in Nature, researchers report that colonies founded by queens exposed to small amounts of sulfoxaflor, an insecticide that kills aphids, psyllids, and other pests, produce 54 percent fewer male drones than do unexposed colonies-and no new queen bees at all.

PhD student Harry Siviter, alongside Professor Mark Brown, and Dr Ellouise Leadbeater, all from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, tested the effects of the substance on bumblebee colonies.

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The new class of insecticides are based on the chemical sulfoximine, instead of neonicotinoids, which have become widely used in recent years.

Differences between the colony populations began to emerge two to three weeks after first exposure and continued until the end of the colony life cycle. Their job is to mate with the queen and secure the next generation of bees, including the all-important workers that are female but sterile.

In April EU member states, including the United Kingdom, voted in favour of an nearly complete ban on the use of neonicotinoids, which will be in place by the end of the year, despite opposition from farmers. The pesticide and similar sulfoximine agents are considered by the farming industry as potential replacements for neonicotinoids, which were banned on flowering crops in 2013 because of evidence that they harmed bees.

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