I was pulling weeds in my garden yesterday, when a flicker of movement caught my eye.
It was a bee, a big fuzzy one, stumbling around in the grass next to the plot I was weeding.
Only this bee wasn't acting like a bee. Instead of flying to sip at the nearby salvia or monarda, as bees usually do in my garden, this bee seemed clumsy and confused. It would stagger along a blade of grass, pause, then stagger to another one, never opening its wings at all. It looked almost like it was drunk.
I immediately remembered a gardener telling me that she quit using insecticides a few years ago, after the bees from her hive started acting "drunk" after one tree was treated.
I've always avoided using insecticides in my garden, and I've tried to be careful about what plants I'm buying, ever since neonicotinoids and their suspected impact on bees starting making headlines a couple summers ago.
I didn't think I had anything in my garden that could potentially harm bees. But I can't be absolutely positive, because some of my plants were purchased, at various garden centers, before I'd ever heard of neonicotinoids. I have no way of knowing whether they were treated at the growing range or in the garden center.
Or possibly this particular bee was exposed to something on a neighbor's property and had just staggered over to mine.
Either way, it was sad and distressing to watch this clearly damaged bee, knowing that there are many more like him.
Neonicotinoids' impact on bee health is being studied, and the jury is still out on whether and how much they're contributing to colony collapse disorder. Here in Minnesota, the legislature has pulled back on pollinator protection, deciding that plants don't have to be completely neonicotinoid free to be labeled "pollinator friendly" -- as long as they don't contain enough of the insecticide to kill a bee outright. My colleague Josephine Marcotty has written extensively about this topic: (www.startribune.com/minnesota-senate-pulls-back-on-pollinator-protection/303790251/)
I don't know what happened to the bee stumbling around my backyard yesterday. But watching his woozy struggle strengthened my resolve to make my own back yard a bee-friendly oasis. What about you, fellow gardeners? Do bees and their welfare figure into your own garden planning and maintenance?