Many gardeners and households like to have the safe feeling of using organic and sustainable pesticides and insecticides than commercially-produced inorganic chemical solutions that are thought to be more dangerous to use, especially in the presence of essential insects like bees.
One of the organic pesticides that are more common is the Diatomaceous Earth, but is it really safer for the busy bees than the commercial pesticides that you are known to be effective, like Sevin Dust ?
Diatomaceous Earth is chalky sedimentary rocks that are derived from fossils of small aquatic organisms called diatoms. Their remains are made mainly of silica that is ground into dust to form pesticides that are deadly to insects like bees. It’s primarily used as an insecticide that acts by absorbing the fats and oils from an insect’s exoskeleton, eventually drying them out, dehydrating them, and killing them .
Let us learn more about this “organic” Diatomaceous Earth and how it affects bees, wildlife, and people.
What is Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous Earth, also called diatomites or sometimes kieselgur, are soft, chalky, sedimentary rocks that contain silica from the remains of the fossils of small aquatic organisms called diatoms, which are more related to a specie of algae .
These remains are crushed into a fine white or off-white colored powder and are commonly used as a pesticide, agricultural products, and in various food-grade applications.
These sedimentary rocks are commonly found in rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans. They are mined by open pit methods by companies for different commercial and industrial use .
The Diatomaceous Earth was first registered in the 1960s to kill insects and mites  and is classified as “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). This means that they can be used by common households without extensive regulations.
There are many products aside from pesticides that contain diatomaceous earth, including skin care products, beverages, medicines, and even food. It can also be used in water filtration to remove unwanted materials .
Does Diatomaceous Earth Kills Bees?
Since one of the general uses and values of Diatomaceous Earth is to kill insects, it works effectively even without the insects ingesting it. It begins to work if insects and pests come in contact with the powder. It then acts by absorbing oils and fats found in the exoskeleton (outer protective part of invertebrates) of the insects, which will cause them to “dry out,” become dehydrated, and eventually die .
Diatomaceous earth has an abrasive and sorptive capability, allowing it to absorb the liquid, like fat and oils, on the exoskeleton of the insect by capillary action . It basically dehydrates the body of insects, which becomes fatal and eventually kills them.
Since bees have virtually the same general composition as other insects, they are not safe in the presence of Diatomaceous Earth. Suppose bees come in contact with the powdery Diatomaceous Earth. In that case, it will absorb their body liquid and will kill them by dehydration.
The hairs around the bee’s bodies can easily take hold of the Diatomaceous Earth if they come in close contact with it, similar to how they collect pollens whenever they forage and are almost sure to kill them.
How is Diatomaceous Earth used to kill other pests?
Another common application of Diatomaceous Earth is killing common garden pests, like snails and slugs, which is a good deterrent for them.
It works by acting like tiny, sharp, broken glasses (similar to how gardeners use egg shells) that can cut the bodies of slugs and snails if ever they crawl over it, which can also dehydrate the unsuspecting gastropods.
It is also effective for other soft-bodied insects like caterpillars, worms, and insects with hard shells like beetles, fleas, and cockroaches .
The time it takes for Diatomaceous Earth to take effect and kill pests varies from the particle sizes, temperature, humidity, and the type of insect you.
It can take effect from less than 24 hours to more than a week, depending on the level of infestation. It may even sometimes need re-applying if the required result is not yet attained .
It is important to note that while Diatomaceous Earth is for general use, it can’t tell the beneficial insects and pesky pests apart, so it can kill both the nasty bugs like bed bugs and the good bugs like the hard-working honeybees and the beautiful butterflies.
Some farmers also use Diatomaceous Earth to kill intestinal worms of livestock by adding them to their feeds. However, the supporting evidence is still inconclusive and will require further research.
How to use Diatomaceous Earth without hurting the bees
Diatomaceous Earth does not discriminate whether the insects that come in contact with it are annoying pests or helpful bees. Since this is the case, it is crucial to be careful where you will use them to avoid the unnecessary killing of bees.
Since it commonly comes in powdered form, it is usually applied around plants, so ensure that there are no gaps to prevent pests from entering your protected plants. However, you also need to be careful not to apply this pesticide on flowering plants since bees are more likely to visit them and will surely die if they do.
Also, to avoid killing the bees, it is more advisable to apply Diatomaceous Earth during the off-hours of the bees, like early in the morning or late in the evening .
However, if you want to be cautious about totally avoiding the bees and carefully targeting specific pests, it would be best to find other pesticides that are not toxic to the bees and other helpful insects and garden creatures.
Does organic means it is harmless?
Diatomaceous Earth is organic. It is also naturally occurring and generally found in the fossilized remains of Diatoms, a form of prehistoric algae in various bodies of water where it is mined for different commercial uses.
Though it is categorized as a pesticide, it works differently than most commercial chemical pesticides because its effects are based on its physical composition. However, does “organic” necessarily mean that it is harmless and safe? Unfortunately, it’s not.
While it is sold as food grade and is generally safe for humans to use, it is still necessary to be careful when using them, especially around children and beneficial bugs like the bees. Always ensure that you read the manual carefully before application.
How does Diatomaceous Earth affect other wildlife?
Diatomaceous Earth is generally safe and does not harm other forms of wildlife, like birds, fishes, and aquatic invertebrates. There are also no toxic claims against nature based on various agencies.
It has also been used in various livestock applications like feeding chickens to promote bone growth and alleviate other livestock from intestinal worms and other parasites, though further research is still needed.
Is Diatomaceous Earth Dangerous to pets and people?
Diatomaceous Earth is generally safe to use around pets and people, particularly the food-grade variety, because of its low crystalline silica content. This food-grade variety of Diatomaceous Earth has been used as a dietary supplement for healthy digestion, improving heart health, bone growth, and other health benefits claims .
However, the other varieties have the possibility of irritation, especially for young children, since they can easily be inhaled through the skin or the eyes. It is essential to read the label of your pesticides and keep away from the reach of children.
If inhaled or ingested, it can cause shortness of breath and coughing. It can also cause eye irritation and skin irritation, and dryness.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is mined from bodies of water like ponds, rivers, lakes, and oceans. They are white, soft, and powdery sedimentary rocks from the remains of the fossils of small aquatic organisms called Diatoms, which are closer to algae.
According to the Food and Drugs Administration, they are generally safe to use. They are even commonly included in everyday items like food, beverages, skincare products, and medicine. However, they are more typically used as effective garden pesticides.
It works by absorbing the lipids found on the exoskeleton of the insects and, in effect, dries them up or dehydrates them, eventually killing them.
Diatomaceous Earth is usually in the powdered form of white to off-white color. It is then applied around plants that you want to protect from pests. Unfortunately, this pesticide can’t identify beneficial insects and pests, so it can also kill bees.
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