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Meet the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee – Before It's Too Late

More protections may be on the way for a bumblebee that is disappearing across the Midwest. Credit: Jerry Oster
More protections may be on the way for a bumblebee that is disappearing across the Midwest. Credit: Jerry Oster
September 29, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Protections could be on the way for a bumblebee that used to be commonly found in parts of South Dakota and across the Upper Midwest, but is now threatened with extinction.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has just begun a yearlong review to determine if an Endangered Species Act listing is warranted for the rusty patched bumble bee.

Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director for The Xerces Society, says the bee is facing a number of threats – including habitat loss, pesticides and diseases passed on from commercially-managed bumblebees.

"There's quite a bit of concern among people who study bumblebees that commercial bumblebees are spreading diseases to wild bumblebees, and that it is leading to their decline," she says.

Jepsen says the rusty patched bumble bee has disappeared from 87 percent of its historic range – and even where it still does exist, its populations are as much as 95 percent smaller than they were just a few decades ago.

According to Jepsen, the rusty patched bumble bee is an excellent pollinator of wildflowers and numerous crops including apple and alfalfa. She notes the push for their listing comes as the federal government is looking to protect bees and other pollinators such as the monarch butterfly.

"Earlier this year, the White House released a strategy to protect native bees, honey bees and monarch butterflies," she says. "I think the attention from the White House that has been given to pollinators has been really great for native pollinator conservation."

The National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators is focused on protecting, restoring and enhancing their habitat.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD