On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the rusty patched bumblebee on the Endangered Species List, warning that the species is "balancing precariously on the brink of extinction." This is the first bumblebee designated an endangered species, and the first bee put on the list from the 48 contiguous United States — seven species of bee in Hawaii were named as endangered in September.
The rusty patched bumblebee, named after the markings on its back, was prevalent in 28 states and two Canadian provinces just 20 years ago, but its numbers have fallen by 87 percent since the 1990s and it is now found only in 13 states and one province. "Listing the bee as endangered will help us mobilize partners and focus resources on finding ways right now to stop the decline," U.S. Fish and Wildlife regional director Tom Melius said in a statement. Christy Leavitt with Environment America noted that the rusty patched bumblebee isn't the only threatened bee species, adding pointedly: "If bees go extinct, it's simple: no bees, no food."
"Causes of the decline in rusty patched bumblebee populations are believed to be loss of habitat; disease and parasites; use of pesticides that directly or indirectly kill the bees; climate change, which can affect the availability of the flowers they depend on; and extremely small population size," the wildlife agency said. "Most likely, a combination of these factors has caused the decline in rusty patched bumblebees." If you want to help, experts say, grow a garden, limit or eliminate pesticide use, and plant native flowers that bloom from the spring to fall. You can learn more in the USA Today video below. Peter Weber