Honey bees, Apis mellifera L., often thought to be extremely susceptible to insecticides in general, exhibit considerable variation in tolerance to pyrethroid insecticides. Although some pyrethroids, such as cyfluthrin and lambda-cyhalothrin, are highly toxic to honey bees, the toxicity of tau-fluvalinate is low enough to warrant its use to control parasitic mites inside honey bee colonies. Metabolic insecticide resistance in other insects is mediated by three major groups of detoxifying enzymes: the cytochrome P450 monooxygenases (P450s), the carboxylesterases (COEs), and the glutathione S-transferases (GSTs). To test the role of metabolic detoxification in mediating the relatively low toxicity of tau-fluvalinate compared with more toxic pyrethroid insecticides, we examined the effects of piperonyl butoxide (PBO), S,S,S-tributylphosphorotrithioate (DEF), and diethyl maleate (DEM) on the toxicity of these pyrethroids. The toxicity of the three pyrethroids to bees was greatly synergized by the P450 inhibitor PBO and synergized at low levels by the carboxylesterase inhibitor DEF. Little synergism was observed with DEM. These results suggest that metabolic detoxification, especially that mediated by P450s, contributes significantly to honey bee tolerance of pyrethroid insecticides. The potent synergism between tau-fluvalinate and PBO suggests that P450s are especially important in the detoxification of this pyrethroid and explains the ability of honey bees to tolerate its presence.
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Vol. 99 • No. 4