Insecticides – especially those in the neonicotinoid class – have been getting a bad rap in environmental circles. But researchers at Mississippi State University believe herbicides used to control weeds can spell even bigger trouble for bees.

Jeff Harris, bee specialist with the MSU Extension Service and a researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said herbicides can be a bigger threat because they destroy bee food sources.

“When farmers burn down weeds before spring planting, or people spray for goldenrod, asters and spring flowers, or when power companies spray their rights-of-way, they’re killing a lot of potential food sources for bees and wild pollinators,” says Harris, who is based on the MSU campus in Starkville.

Harris said the direct effect of these chemicals on bees is so much less of an issue than their loss of food supply.

“Disappearing food is on the mind of beekeepers in the state,” he said. “That is even more important to them than losses of bees to insecticides.”