REHOBOTH — State officials are investigating an intense honeybee kill in town that beekeepers believe is tied to pesticide spraying they say is a growing and widespread problem.

State Department of Agricultural Resources representatives Friday were called to Rehoboth after more than 50,000 bees were reported to have died in a hive. Monday, a second, smaller hive also lost many bees.

The culprit is believed to be pesticide spraying, possibly for mosquitoes.

The Rehoboth kill is far from an isolated incident, according to area beekeepers.

“It does happen all the time. It’s something you have to deal with,” Steven Phinney of Plainville, a member of the Norfolk County Beekeepers Association, said. “People go crazy spraying stuff.”

Phinney said he has had hives die off that he believes were the result of neighbors properties being sprayed with pesticides.

“It happens once in a while,” Phinney said, adding he has “no actual proof of it,” not having had the bees tested. “I over the years have had hives die off randomly.”

Beekeepers try to get pesticide spraying companies to spray at night when bees are not active, Phinney said, but they often have to fit their spraying into their daytime work schedules.

Wayne Andrews of Dighton, vice president of the Bristol County Beekeepers Association and a retired superintendent of the Bristol County Mosquito Control Project, has called the Rehoboth kill probably the biggest one he’s seen.

A member of the Bristol County Beekeepers Association who lives on Carpenter Street in Rehoboth started noticing his bees dying last Wednesday.

By Thursday morning, the hive of about 75,000 bees had been nearly wiped out.

Andrews, a beekeeper for four decades who has had his own hives killed by neighbors spraying, called in the state Department of Agricultural Resources, which sent an inspector Friday morning who took samples to test for pesticides.

The second, smaller hive that was hit lost several hundred bees.

Other pollinators such as butterflies and bumblebees also were likely killed at the same time, beekeepers point out.

More environmentally and insect-friendly pesticides are available, beekeepers say. It is also imperative to read instructions, they add, to know how and when to use them.

Even if a pesticide is considered bee friendly, it should not be sprayed during the day, when bees are out working the fields, bee experts say. Bees head out each morning but hives have guards at their entrances. When the worker bees return, if the guards suspect they are contaminated — even if it is not deadly — the guards will not allow the workers back into the hive and will die.

Stephen Peterson can be reached at 508-236-0377.

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