First Bumblebee Declared Endangered in U.S.

The rusty patched bumblebee population has declined 87 per cent over the past two decades.

For the first time in the United States, a species of bumblebee is endangered.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday on its website that the rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis), once a common sight, is “now balancing precariously on the brink of extinction.” Over the past two decades, the bumblebee’s population has declined 87 percent, according to the announcement.

The news comes just a few months after the first-ever bees were declared endangered in the U.S. In September, seven species of Hawaiian bees, including the yellow-faced bee (Hylaeus anthracinus), received protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The threats facing those seven species are similar to the ones that have depleted rusty patched bumblebee populations: loss of habitat, diseases and parasites, pesticides, and climate change. This is a big deal not only for bees, but for humans too—after all, bees pollinate a lot of our food. (Read “For the First Time, Bees Declared Endangered in the U.S.”)

“Bumblebees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes,” according to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s rusty patched bumblebee profile. “The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.” 

Once spread across half the U.S., rusty patched bumblebees are now found in only 13 states. 

In its announcement about the rusty patched bumblebees’ endangered status, the department listed ways that individuals can help stop the bees’ decline. These include planting native flowers, limiting or avoiding pesticides, and fostering “natural landscapes and leave grass and garden plants uncut after summer to provide habitat for overwintering bees.”

Unlike Stephen Colbert, the Fish and Wildlife Service stopped short of telling people to teach the bees about military history and engineering.

Header image: The rusty patched bumblebee is the first bumblebee to be designated as an endangered species in the U.S. PHOTOGRAPH BY ALAMY

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