The latest buzz on bees

 August 14, 2023

We know that humans are adversely affected by magnetic fields from powerlines and other electrical equipment, but what about bees?

Could the high magnetic fields from the powerlines that criss-cross their habitat affect bee health, behaviour and pollination activities?

It’s a question to which researchers from Chile and Argentina have recently turned their attention.

The reason for their interest, they explained is this. ‘[H]oneybees are … being increasingly exposed to artificial, low-frequency EMF (such as those from overhead power lines), which acts as a stressor on honeybees, by altering the magnetic maps used during foraging flights and navigation and producing a magnetoreception disorder. This leads to fewer honeybees returning to the colony, disorientation, or even a total loss of adult foragers (colony collapse disorder).’

To study the effects of magnetic fields on the bees, the researchers focused on six high voltage towers, the equipment from which emitted levels of around 100 milliGauss (mG). (This is well below the 2000 mG limit allowed by international [ICNIRP] limits for human exposure but far above the 4mG level linked with increased risks of childhood leukemia and classified as a Class 2B carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.)

The team chose to study the fields from electrical towers as opposed to power lines so that they could compare their findings with those from similar towers they could access.

They studied honeybees located close to and at a distance from the electrical towers. They found ‘detrimental’ effects of exposure, not just to honeybees, but to the surrounding plant community.

  • There were fewer flowering poppies around active towers than those that were inactive.
  • Bees working closer to active towers had higher levels of a protein called HsP70, indicating stress.
  • Exposed bees had differences in 12 genes linked with navigation, stress and immunity.
  • Bee visits to flowers near a tower were 308% less frequent than visits to areas away from towers.                                                

‘These negative effects of EMF could cascade into a number of additional effects on insects’ physiology and behavior, including less pollen and honey harvested, impaired learning ability, flight dynamics, foraging, and feeding, as well as increased piping in the colony,’ the authors wrote.

The team concluded that the fields from the electrical towers had a detrimental impact on honeybee pollination and, therefore, the surrounding plant community.

‘We propose that honeybees’ exposure to EMF disturbs their foraging capabilities by altering their magnetic navigation, learning, decision-making mechanisms, flight, and foraging, thus impairing pollination activity. This hypothesis would explain the observed reduction of workers’ flower visitation around areas located in the proximity of active electric transmission towers, which we have established to be a prominent source of stress for honeybees,’ they said.

Marco A. Molina-Montenegro et al, Electromagnetic fields disrupt the pollination service by honeybees, Science Advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adh1455

PF5 - Power Frequency 5 (ELF & VLF) Meter

Find out what magnetic fields you and your family are exposed to from powerlines, wiring and electrical equipment at home, work or school with our PF5 meter here.

From Dr Olle Johansson

Dr Johansson, a tireless campaigner for protecting bees from electromagnetic pollution, reports that the Swedish division of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has recently announced a drive about the future of our pollinators, under the slogan "Vill du hjälpa oss säkerställa pollinatörernas framtid, så att vi kan fortsätta dricka morgonkaffe till ljudet av humlesurr?" (Eng. "Do you want to help us ensure the future of pollinators, so we can continue to drink our morning coffee to the sound of bumblebees?")

What can you do?

  • Give the poor old bees a hand – plant bee-friendly natives in your garden.
  • Learn how to reduce the magnetic fields in your home with our online course, Your electromagnetic-safe Home.

What else can you do?

  • forward this email to others to inform them, too
  • see the latest news in our July newsletter EMR and Health here
  • book a phone consultation to find answers to your questions here