By Gillian Flaccus, Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. — Federal wildlife officials on Thursday made a
formal recommendation to list the rusty patched bumble bee as an
endangered species because it has disappeared from about 90% of its
historic range in just the past two decades.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the recommendation after
the Portland, Oregon-based Xerces
Society petitioned the agency on behalf of the bee in 2013 and
presented studies showing it was struggling due to a combination of
disease, habitat loss, climate change and overuse of pesticides on
If approved, the species would be the first bee listed as
endangered in the continental United States, said Rich Hatfield,
senior conservation biologist with the Xerces Society.
The group, which advocates for the preservation of pollinator
insects such as butterflies and bees, used “citizen scientists” to
take counts of the rusty patched bumble bees.
The bees once ranged over 28 states stretching from Minnesota to
Maine and into parts of Canada, but are now limited to small and
scattered colonies in about a dozen states, including Illinois,
Ohio and Minnesota, and one Canadian province, the Fish and
Wildlife Service said in a statement Thursday.
Even those populations may have disappeared or been reduced
because the last counts were done in 2000, the agency said.
“This is a very difficult thing to track. It’s not like honey
bees that are out in boxes that people can go out and count so
keeping track of them in the wild is very difficult,” Hatfield said
of the bumble bee’s numbers.
The rusty patched bumble bee gets its name for a
crescent-shaped, reddish patch on its abdomen. It is one of 4,000
native bee species in North America, Hatfield said.
It is an important pollinator for crops such as cranberries,
blueberries and tomatoes and has increasingly been used in
commercial farming because it is bigger and stronger than the honey
bee. Because of its bigger size, it causes a higher vibration in
the pollen-laden anthers of the flowers it is visiting, resulting
in more and better fruit harvests, Hatfield said.
But the populations of bumble bees being used to pollinate
greenhouse tomatoes, cranberry bogs and blueberry fields have
become infected by disease and spread a virulent pathogen to their
wild cohorts, causing those colonies to collapse, he said. The
phenomenon is similar to the colony collapse that has affected
honey bees in recent years, he said.
Honey bees create hives of up to 50,000 individuals and make
honey to survive through the winter. Bumble bees live in small
colonies of 50 to 500 individuals and don’t make honey because they
don’t live through the winter, Hatfield said.
They rarely sting because they don’t have large colonies to
protect and don’t have a honey stash to defend, he added.
Seven species of yellow faced bee in Hawaii were proposed for
listing by the Fish and Wildlife Service last year, but the
recommendation has yet to be finalized, Hatfield said.
“I think one of the great things about pollinator conservation
in general is that no matter where you live, you can do something
about this,” Hatfield said. “All these animals need our flowers
from spring through fall and if we can help create or restore some
habitat that’s been lost, we can give bees a chance to
The public has 60 days to comment on the proposed listing for
the rusty patched bumble bee and the agency will make a final
ruling within a year of Thursday’s date, said Georgia Parham, an
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