Mass Bee Death in Russia Sparks Investigation After Hundreds of Thousands Found Dead

Authorities in Russia's Kemerovo region have launched an investigation after mysterious mass bee deaths were reported in three districts.

Residents in the Belovsky district reported the death of 145 bee colonies, with the value of the losses estimated to be around one million rubles (around $14,000,) according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Siberian region, which is also referred to as Kuzbass.

Local authorities also received reports of similar mass bee deaths in the Guryevsky and Krapivinsky districts, although the number of lost colonies has yet to be disclosed, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

At present, it is not clear what is behind the loss of the bee colonies, however, the ministry is now coordinating an investigation, which will involve experts from "specialized organizations and departments," according to a statement.

As part of the investigation, scientists will examine samples of dead bees and honey in an attempt to determine the cause of the colony losses.

Some beekeepers in the region have suggested that the mass deaths could have been caused by agricultural chemicals, Interfax reported, citing local media.

As a result, the Kuzbass Ministry of Agriculture is also looking into the deaths, and whether such chemicals—which are used to kill weeds and pests—may be responsible.

"All the circumstances of the incident are being clarified: the date and time of the chemical treatment of the fields, the registration of beekeepers, the volume of deaths of bees," a spokesperson from the regional agriculture ministry told Interfax.

Farmers in the region participate in training every year regarding the proper use of chemicals with the federal rural inspection service Rosselkhoznadzor, the spokesperson said.

Russia is no stranger to mass bee deaths. The latest losses in Kuzbass come after similar reports emerged of mass bee deaths in Russia's Altai Territory, which borders Kazakhstan, and the Novosibirsk region in southern Siberia, in July and June respectively.

dead honeybees
This AFPTV screen grab shows beekeeper Anatoly Rubtsov holding a handful of dead bees at his honeybee farm on the edge of the village of Bobrovka in Tula region, south of Moscow, on July 18, 2019. IVANA JURISA/AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images

In fact, more than 30 regions in Russia reported mass bee deaths last summer—the peak time for honey harvesting—with experts blaming the misuse of pesticides on farmland for many of them, Interfax reported. By August last year, the agriculture ministry estimated that 300,000 colonies had died nationwide out of a total of 3.3 million.

In the region of Tula, located more than 120 miles south of Moscow, local beekeepers blamed mass deaths on a company that treated its rapeseed fields with an insecticide called fipronil that is banned for use in agriculture in the European Union and for certain uses in the United States but is still legal in Russia, AFP reported.

"The pesticides banned in Europe have all been dumped here in Russia and farmers use them in their fields because it is cheap," Viktor Morozov, a beekeeper in the village of Bobrovka, Tula region, told AFP. "As a result, bees are dying and people are being poisoned. Of course, somebody has to take responsibility for this. But I don't know if someone will."

Bee colonies around the world are facing threats from several factors, including the use of pesticides—particularly neonicotinoids—climate breakdown, and also parasites, such as varroa mites.