The rusty patched bumblebee is the first native bee to become an endangered species in the United States. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have stated they do not know what caused the decline, but the species is on the brink of extinction.
The bee could be disappearing for a number of reasons, according to Serina Jepson, Director of Endangered Species and Aquatic Programs for the Xerces Society.
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“Disease and pesticides are the two biggest threats to the existence of the rusty patched bumblebee, compounded by loss of habitat,” Jepson said. “Of additional concern is the widespread use of persistent, long-lasting, highly toxic insecticides within the range of the rusty patched bumblebee, which pose a threat to its continued existence.”
Colonies of the rusty patched bumblebee have decreased by at least 87 percent since the 1990s. The bee once thrived in 31 states across the eastern U.S. and the upper Midwest. They also flourished in parts of southern Canada.
Now, the bee occupies only 13 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin, along with one Canadian province.
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Eric Lee-Mäder, the pollinator program co-director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, said the dwindling bee population could have a major impact on the fruits and vegetables produced for Americans to eat.
“Bumblebees are among the most widely recognized and well-understood group of native pollinators in North America and contribute to the pollination of food crops such as squash, melon, blueberry, cranberry, clover, greenhouse tomato and greenhouse pepper, as well as numerous wildflowers,” Lee-Mäder said.
He also feels without the rusty patched bumblebee pollinating the various crops, the financial impact could be devastating.
“Native pollinators in the U.S. provide essential pollination services to agriculture which are valued at more than $9 billion annually,” said Lee-Mäder.
There have been efforts to try to preserve the bee’s habitat all over the country.
“We have already seen incredible leadership from the agricultural community in restoring and protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat for the rusty patched bumblebee and other native pollinators,” Lee-Mäder said.
Terace Garnier is a Fox News multimedia reporter based in Columbia, South Carolina. Follow her on twitter: @TeraceGarnier