There are many reasons that some US bumblebees are getting closer to being listed on the endangered species list. One reason may surprise many people.
In 2017, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee was the first bee ever to receive endangered species status in the US, and we have blogged about this before. More bumblebees are now being considered.
The American Bumble Bee is a large yellow and black insect found across most of mainland USA and parts of Canada and Mexico. This pollinator commonly visits backyards, farm fields, and wild landscapes. Bumblebees nest on the ground, and queens overwinter alone, starting new colonies in the spring.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service finished their first review of a petition requesting that the American Bumblebee be added to the endangered species list. They found the information presented suggests that the listing may be justified, so rigorous status reviews will be initiated. It will now move to the next step in the endangered species process.
Some threats listed in the petition: disease, habitat destruction, pesticide use, climate change, and competition from non-native honeybees for food and resources.
This unrelated 5:48-minute video by WFSU Ecology tells the story of beekeepers giving a home to a rare US bee colony:
To pass the first stage of the review that was just completed, the Fish and Wildlife Service only had to confirm that one of the threats presented was important. In the case of American Bumblebees, they found that the species is potentially threatened, focusing on pathogen spillover from domesticated bumble bees or commercial honeybees, which means diseases are being carried and spread by domesticated, non-native species into the wild bee populations.
The status review will take 12 months to complete. Then the Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to list the American Bumblebee (Bombus pensylvanicus). If the species needs to be listed, but other species have a higher priority, a third possible option is a “guaranteed but excluded” decision.
Conservation biologist Leif Richardson of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation believes that if this species is protected by the federal government, many other pollinators may benefit. In the long run, it would improve our food security and the health of our ecosystem, and would be a positive step towards conservation.
Bumble bees perform “buzz” pollination, which is a form of vibrational pollination (shaking the flower) that is extremely effective on tomatoes and some other plants.
The petition last February to list the American Bumblebee as an endangered species was submitted by The Center for Biological Diversity and the Bombus Pollinator Association of Law Students of Albany Law School. The petition provided an overview of past and present bumblebee conditions and cited many factors that led to its rapid decline. All of these will be thoroughly investigated during the status review.
Here are some facts to ponder that were mentioned in the petition:
American Bumble Bees are no longer found or are now very rare in 16 US states.
The American Bumblebee's preferred grassland habitat includes native prairie ecosystems that have declined by up to 99.9% as they are among the least protected in the country.
Transported domesticated bees have introduced new parasites and diseases to wild bumble bees. The decline of American Bumblebees began around 2000 with a rapid increase in the use of domesticated bumblebees to pollinate crops in greenhouses and outdoors. There is no regulation to prove bumblebees transported across state lines are disease-free.
This 1:30-minute video by EarthFixMedia is called, Will The Franklin's Bumble Bee Ever Be Seen Again?
The Upper Midwest is home to over 40% of American beehives as well as a declining population of American Bumblebees. The thousands of honeybees outnumber and can easily defeat native bees in search of nectar and pollen. A 40-nest commercial apiary consumes enough nectar and pollen to feed 4,000,000 native bees between June and August.
Many people will be shocked to realize that the non-native honeybee seems to play an unintentional but substantial role in the decline of the American Bumble Bee, due to dwindling food resources and the transporting of diseases and parasites.
If the American Bumblebee is granted an endangered species listing it will join the Rusty Patched Bumblebee and Franklin's Bumble Bee (Bombus franklini), which has not been seen since 2006 and was added to the endangered species list on September 23, 2021.
Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, hopes the story of Franklin’s Bumble Bee will inspire people to prevent more pollinators across the USA from edging towards extinction.
Documents and comments related to the federal review of the state of US bumblebees are available online.