The Effects of Glyphosate on the Genus Apis (honey bees)

At the start of the industrial revolution, humans were devising new ways to combat nature for the betterment of food and resource production. Chemical warfare was becoming more popular and as these weapons were developed less potent versions arose to suit a productive consumer benefit. [I] Large scale farming was the way to feed the world and these chemicals found their place in companies across each country. Monsanto realized how effective these chemicals were at controlling the growth of weeds and put them on the market right away. In the 70’s, studies were inconclusive in showing the effects of herbicides on human or animal health, no long term studies were performed and one of the most popular and most widely used herbicides was born, glyphosate. [I]


Glyphosate by Yikrazuul, licensed under CC 4.0

A mistake many companies have made is the lack of thorough research on chemical products. Companies are so eager to release products and make money that they do not put in the effort to explore the potentially detrimental effects of their product. A good example of this is an early barbiturate medication Methaqualone. Drug companies prescribed this medication to people with insomnia, as it is a strong sedative. Like many medications released in the middle of the 20th century they have since been removed because of abuse issues and health problems. The drug methaqualone was released just 5 years after its discovery and became the most popular sedative in the world. However the lack of sufficient testing later showed serious adverse effects such as peripheral neuropathy, convulsions, amnesia, and as a consequence of peripheral neuropathy, permanent nerve damage. [1]

As discussed in class, the use of DES, a synthetic estrogen used to prevent miscarriages between 1940 and 1970. DES is now a widely known carcinogen and as a result of the lack of sufficient testing has now put millions of women and women’s children at risk for cancer. DES was approved for use just 3 years after its discovery, most definitely not enough time to observe adverse health effects. [2]

Glyphosate is a herbicide that was, and still is used for the control of nuisance plants in large scale agriculture. While semi-conclusive studies showed that glyphosate had no effect on mammals and humans. [3] There were no studies performed on other animals such as honey bees, or important pollinators that would be exposed to the herbicide until long after the product entered the market. (The first articles I found about human related studies were from the early 2000’s).


Western Honey Bee by Wikipeder, licensed under CC 3.0

Today there are many articles proving the toxicity of glyphosate to invertebrates and aquatic life. An in vivo study of goldfish showed glyphosate to have a negative effect on the genetic makeup of erythrocytes (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets). The fish were exposed to 5, 10, and 15 ppm of glyphosate for a total of 144 hours. Analysis of micronuclei, nuclear abnormalities, and DNA damage were performed. It was found that glyphosate had a significant dose-dependent effect on the genetic makeup of the erythrocytes. Including genetic abnormalities as well as DNA strand breaks. [4] As an outcome of this DNA damage, blood and immunity disorders can arise as genes change sequence, leading to the production of abnormal proteins, or no proteins at all, depending on the damage to the gene.

Studies have also been conducted to show the effects of herbicides like Glyphosate on pollinator species, such as honey bees. While the effects of herbicides on fish is significant and should be addressed, pollinators are responsible for the proliferation of food crops around the world. Honey bees are one of the most affected species when it comes to herbicide use, and various studies have shown metabolic impacts, as well as appetite and foraging impacts when exposed to glyphosate. A study by the journal of environmental science and pollution research performed a study on the effects of various herbicides, including glyphosate, on honey bees. The bees were exposed to contaminated syrup for 10 days. After experimentation it was shown that both carotenoid and retinoid metabolism were affected. There was decreased β-carotene in honey bees exposed to glyphosate, this could be the result of a stimulatory effect of this herbicide on β-carotene 15-15′-monooxygenase activity. [5] This enzyme catalyzes the production of vitamin A, an essential vitamin necessary for proper growth and the functioning of the immune system.

In bees, appetite is necessary to forage properly and feed offspring. A study conducted by the journal of experimental biology observed the effects of glyphosate exposure on sucrose sensitivity. Response was measured with the (PER) proboscis extension response. This response allows scientists to know when a bee is interested in feeding, PER occ when a food source touches the antenna of the bee. Groups exposed to glyphosate had a decreased sensitivity to sucrose, as well as impaired short term memory (where the sucrose is). The bees had impaired associative learning, as well as a decreased appetite, and loss of interest in nectar. [6] This is problematic in a hive setting as honey bees communicate with one another to find food, not knowing where the food is can be a problem for a hive. Other problems may arise such as insufficient honey to survive the winter and offspring not getting enough nutrients. Honey bees may have difficulty foraging and carrying out the necessary actions to pollinate. Bees do remeber which flowers they have visited, due to short term memory loss, visiting the same 5 flowers would be ineffective for collecting nectar. It is speculated that successful foraging bees could become a source for constant flow of glyphosate that could then be distributed among nestmates. This could have long term consequences on the functioning of the hive.

In conclusion, while glyphosate may not be as harmful to humans as many suspect, its dangers to pollinators are becoming more widely studied. As pollinators have a large impact on food production across the world, it is imperative that we find ways to solve the problem of honey bee population decline. Insects in general are very sensitive to environmental changes. They have evolved over millions of years to perform an exact task and act a specific way. Habitat removal, herbicide use, and the warming of the climate all affect how these pollinating species function, and their effectiveness at performing their job. The loss of pollinating species and hives have cost the united states about 2 billion per year, that number is on the rise

In order to address the problem of the decline of pollinator species, the way in which humans grow food, clear land, and live in general, must be rethought. If humans are going to survive as a species they must cater to the needs of the planet to aid in their own survival.

(The earth has already gone through 5 mass extinctions, what’s another one?)


[1]:National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=6292, (accessed May 2, 2017)

[2]:CDC information about DES:

[3]:Myers JP, Antoniou MN, Blumberg B, Carroll L, Colborn T, Everett LG, Hansen M, Landrigan PJ, Lanphear BP, Mesnage R, Vandenberg LN, vom Saal FS, Welshons WV, Benbrook CM (2016) Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement. Environmental Health. In press

[4]:Tolga Çavaş, Serpil Könen; Detection of cytogenetic and DNA damage in peripheral erythrocytes of goldfish (Carassius auratus) exposed to a glyphosate formulation using the micronucleus test and the comet assay. Mutagenesis 2007; 22 (4): 263-268. doi: 10.1093/mutage/gem012

[5]:Helmer, S.H., Kerbaol, A., Aras, P. et al. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2015) 22: 8010. doi:10.1007/s11356-014-2879-7

[6]:Effects of field-realistic doses of glyphosate on honeybee appetitive behaviour
Lucila T. Herbert, Diego E. Vázquez, Andrés Arenas, Walter M. Farina


As stated in the goals of this project, we will eventually have a proper website either through the Shoals Marine Lab or through the University of New Hampshire, but until the details of that get ironed out properly, we have created a blog specifically for the CITE project here on wordpress that shall serve our purposes for the moment. The url is and if anyone actually ends up interested in any of our projects, we hope you will keep following both blogs (at least until one becomes a real website).

The Bloopers are the Easy Part

One of the most important parts of our citizen science project (The CITE Project) was to make a video of how perform the protocol correctly. This was mostly for the visual learners as most of the important information is in the protocol document. While making this training video, it occurred to us that we could make a rather amusing video on how to intertidal, or, more specifically, how NOT to intertidal. the following video is our end product. Don’t try this at home!

First Post: Why?

This blog was created by the Environmental Education interns at the Shoals Marine Laboratory for the summer of 2016. There is more about us and the facility in our about page.

The main focus of this summer was a citizen science project focusing on collecting data in the intertidal zone of the Gulf of Maine. This project is called the CITE Project and will hopefully spread throughout the Gulf of Maine.

Other projects this summer include a story map for Appledore Island in Maine and a Photo transect project. Comment if you would like to learn more on any project!