Rusty patched bumblebee population plunged nearly 90% since the late 1990s
Wednesday 11 January 2017 01.00 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 11 January 2017 09.08 GMT
The rusty patched bumblebee, a prized but vanishing pollinator once familiar to much of North America, was listed on Tuesday as an endangered species, becoming the first wild bee in the continental United States to gain such federal protection.
One of several species facing sharp declines, the bumblebee known to scientists as Bombus affinis has plunged nearly 90% in abundance and distribution since the late 1990s, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The agency listed the insect after determining it to be in danger of extinction across all or portions of its range, attributing its decline to a mix of factors, including disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss.
Named for the conspicuous reddish blotch on its abdomen, the rusty patched bumblebee once flourished across 28 states, primarily in the upper Midwest and Northeast – from South Dakota to Connecticut – and in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Today, only a few small, scattered populations remain in 13 states and Ontario, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
The agency in September listed seven varieties of yellow-faced, or masked, bees in Hawaii as endangered. But Bombus affinis is the first bumblebee species to given that status, and the first wild bee of any kind to be listed in the Lower 48 states.
Bumblebees, as distinguished from domesticated honeybees, are essential pollinators of wildflowers and about a third of all US crops, from blueberries to tomatoes, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which petitioned the government for protection of the insect.