The rusty-patched bumblebee has been added to the list of endangered species alongside the northern spotted owl, the grizzly bear, and around 700 other animals on the verge of extinction.
Once present in abundance in the grasslands and prairies in the East and Midwest, the bumblebee population is now reducing at an alarming rate.
According to statistics, the bee's numbers have declined by nearly 90 percent over the past two decades.
A report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, published in National Geographic, states:
"The rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis), once a common sight, is "now balancing precariously on the brink of extinction. Once thriving in 28 states and the District of Columbia, but over the past two decades, the bee's population has plummeted nearly 90 percent. There are more than 3,000 bee species in the United States, and about 40 belong to the genus Bombus—the bumblebees."
Threats facing bumblebees are a loss of habitat, diseases and parasites, pesticides, and climate change. But we have to do something to save these insects as they play a vital role in the ecosystem.
The report adds:
"Bumblebees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover, and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes. The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States."
The bumblebees aren't the first bee species to be threatened by extinction. Seven other species such as the Hawaiian yellow-faced bees are already protected under the Endangered Species Act.
According to Sarah Jepsen, Xerces Society director of Endangered Species:
"We are thrilled to see one of North America's most endangered species receive the protection it needs. Now that the Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the rusty-patched bumblebee as endangered, it stands a chance of surviving the many threats it faces — from the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to diseases."
One of the main factors in the declining trend of the bumblebee population is continuous human encroachment, which has led to a subsequent loss of the bee's natural habitat.
Bumblebee protection under the Endangered Species Act will conserve the grasslands needed by these bees and other pollinators.
Rich Hatfield, a senior conservation biologist at Xerces Society, says:
"While this listing clearly supports the rusty patched bumble bee, the entire suite of pollinators that share its habitat, and which are so critical to natural ecosystems and agriculture, will also benefit."
"This is a positive step towards the conservation of this species, and we now have to roll up our sleeves to begin the actual on-the-ground conservation that will help it move toward recovery."