Bumblee species declared endangered

Photo credit: The Huffington Post

Photo credit: The Huffington Post

By Sam Siomko, Staff Writer

If you have ever eaten, you have to thank a bee. Why? Bees are one of the most prolific pollinators in the continental United States. Natural pollination from bees saves farmers over three billion dollars per year—that is the amount of money it would require to artificially pollinate our crops. But our friends, the bees, are in trouble. Human carelessness mixed with an increased vulnerability due to climate change has caused populations to decline rapidly in the last couple of years.

Since bees can fly miles from the hive to find food, they will regularly come in contact with pesticides meant for other insect species. Just last year, millions of honey bees were killed by an indiscriminate spray of pesticides meant to decrease the Zika-spreading mosquito population. Likewise, foreign bee species that were introduced to compensate for the declining native population caused an influx of invasive diseases.

One such species has been hit harder than other, and it is a species that may be familiar to you. The Rusty Patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis) has just been declared “endangered” by the Fish and Wildlife Service. This species is known for their large furry bodies and the little dark patch they have between their wings.

They used to live all along the east coast in thirteen states and were one of the most commonly-encountered species, but their numbers have fallen 88% since 2000. Along with pesticides and disease, their preferred habitat range has decreased by 87% as well, meaning they have no place to find food or hibernate for the winter.

The push to put this species on the endangered species list came from the Xerces Society, a branch of the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) that advocates for invertebrates. They petitioned for the inclusion of this bumblebee in 2013, however their concern went unnoticed until this past month.

“Today’s Endangered Species listing is the best, and probably last, hope for the recovery of the rusty patched bumble bee,” said NRDC Senior Attorney Rebecca Riley.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also listed recommended actions in order to help the declining bees. These suggestions include mowing and raking less to leave critical food species undisturbed and leaving plant stems and bushes untrimmed to provide suitable habitat. Most importantly, limiting pesticide use ensures that the bees are not needlessly killed.

This is the first time that a bumblebee has been placed on the endangered species list. Last October, seven species of honeybees native to Hawaii were listed as endangered, one of which is only found on the islands. The sudden decline of pollinator species across the country could spell disaster for food supplies since they pollinate 90% of worldwide plants.

Listing these bee species as endangered brings more attention to their plight and hopefully more funding in order to protect them, which are the first steps in bringing them back from the brink of extinction. So with a little help, bumblebees might be buzzing around your petunias again one day.

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