Bumblebees falling out of trees in massive kill-off

This isn't exactly the way National Pollinator Week was intended to be celebrated. Suffice to say, it hasn't been a good week for the bees of Wilsonville, Oregon.

In one of the largest known incidents of bumblebee deaths in the Western U.S., an estimated 25,000 bees have shown up dead in a Target store parking lot in the town 17 miles south of Portland.

bee photo

Photos of bees in parking lot courtesy of Rich Hatfield of The Xerces Society

Reports first surfaced of bees and other insects falling out of 55 blooming European linden trees on Monday—the first day of National Pollinator Week–and the bees continued dying throughout the week, according to the Portland Oregonian and other sources.

"I've never encountered anything quite like it in 30 years in the business," Dan Hilburn of the Oregon Department of Agriculture told the Oregonian.

Rich Hatfield, a conservation biologist with the Portland-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, added, "They were literally falling out of the trees. To our knowledge, this is one of the largest documented bumblebee deaths in the Western U.S. It was heartbreaking to watch."

Hatfield said it is likely that more than 150 bumblebee colonies were lost. He also said honey bees and lady bird beetles were also discovered dead.

Initial findings determined that the trees were sprayed last Saturday with an insecticide called Safari.

An environmental hazard label on Safari clearly states, "This product is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment or residues on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow it to drift to blooming crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treatment area."

bees in parking space 2

On Wednesday, Xerces Society executive director Scott Black confirmed on Facebook that the bee deaths were indeed caused by Safari.

"The landscape company did not follow label directions as it is not supposed to be sprayed during bloom," Black said. "Lots of bees are still dying—almost all bumblebees."

On Friday, to prevent more bee deaths, the Oregon Department of Agriculture began wrapping all 55 trees in netting to prevent the bees from accessing the flowers. The Xerces Society reported that the bees are unable to enter the holes in the netting.

So hopefully, the remaining bees of Wilsonville will be able to enjoy what's left of National Pollinator Week, an event ironically designed to raise public awareness of the plight of bees.


wrapping trees

Photos of trees and netting were shot by Mace Vaughan of The Xerces Society and posted on the society's Facebook page.

wrapped tree