Mosquito Sprayers Accidentally “Nuke” Millions of Bees in South Carolina

After reports of four new Zika cases, Dorchester County aerial sprayed insecticide, destroying several beekeeping operations

Dead Bees 2
Flowertown Bee Farm and Supplies

Fears of Zika are spreading fast. Authorities recently confirmed the disease has begun infecting U.S. mosquitos, so some governments in the South have begun spraying insecticide to kill of the bugs, limiting Zika's spread.

But an operation in Dorchester County, South Carolina, went awry earlier this week, taking out millions of bees, reports Alan Blinder at The New York Times. The county sprayed the insecticide Naled over a 15-square-mile area but failed to contact one beekeeper.

Juanita Stanley, owner of Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply in the town of Summerville tells Brenda Rindge at The Post and Courier that her bee operation “looks like it’s been nuked.” The spraying wiped out 2.3 million bees that were housed in 46 hives. 

“On Saturday, it was total energy, millions of bees foraging, pollinating, making honey for winter,” Stanley says. “Today, it stinks of death. Maggots and other insects are feeding on the honey and the baby bees who are still in the hives. It’s heartbreaking.”

Andrew Macke, a fire captain and hobby beekeeper also saw his two hives decimated. “My wife called a short time after the flyover and said, ‘We have a mass killing,’” he tells Rindge. “‘We have thousands and thousands of bees dead all around our pool deck and our driveway, just everywhere.’”

Blinder reports that in the past the county has sprayed for mosquitoes from trucks, contacting beekeepers before beginning the operations. But last Friday, four cases of Zika acquired by travelers were reported to the county health department. That spurred the county to order the round of aerial spraying last Sunday morning. According to a press release, the county put out a notice via local and social media and called registered beekeepers, but somehow overlooked Stanley.

Spraying Naled, which is particularly harmful to bees, from the air is not uncommon when authorities want to reach spots not accessible by truck, Ben Guarino reports for The Washington Post. One year, Florida doused 6 million acres in the chemical, he writes. The CDC is urging use of the insecticide to fight Zika in Puerto Rico.

Though the county keeps information for the areas commercial beekeepers, Dorchester County administrator Jason Ward contacted Guarino to say they are working to expand their list of beekeepers to amateurs so they have a more thorough list for the future. The county is also looking into reimbursing Stanley for her loss, reports Blinder. But Stanley says it’s too little too late.

“This is much more than just how much those little dead bees are worth,” she says. “My entire business is dead, and it’s not like I can just go out shopping and buy some more bees and get right back on track.”