Delaware Public Media

Bumblebee facing endangered status already scarce in Delaware

Sep 26, 2016

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is petitioning to add a type of bumblebee to the endangered species list — and the bee’s absence in Delaware may help justify this case.

Word of a petition to list the Bombus affinis, or rusty patched bumblebee, on the endangered species list, is not surprising to Delaware Beekeepers Association President Kathy Hossler.

"It belongs on the endangered species list," Hossler said.

Hossler said the rusty patched bumblebee has been red-listed since 2013. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, range-wide studies of the Bombus affinis have suggested the species has suffered nearly a 95 percent decline. It has also suffered a range loss of 70 to 80 percent. This means an estimate of only a quarter of the bumblebee's population remains in its native regions.

The rusty patched bumblebee, which is native to North America, has already been put on the endangered species list in Canada. In Delaware, no rusty patched bumblebee was sighted from 2006 to 2010, according to Faith Kuehn, a plant industries administrator for the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

However, there are two records of the bee documented in the Museum of Natural History, but the collection date is not available yet. This means there is a chance the bee could have been sighted in the First State from 2011 to 2016.

Hossler said what is worrying is that the Bombus affinis has not been seen in Delaware in years. Some nearby states, including Maryland and Connecticut, have reported individual bees found since 2000.

"And we really don’t know how robust those populations are, we don’t know if it still exists in a great part of its range," Hossler said.

Hossler said she hopes the petition will bring more awareness to the impact the declining species has on its ecosystem.

"Flowers, which we notice, they need pollinators and our native pollinators are at risk because native plants are also at risk," Hossler said. "I'm hoping people will learn it's a wide world out there; there's so many different species and they're all connected."

The rusty patched bumblebee could typically be found in woods, wetlands and farm fields. Though the cause of decline is unknown, Hossler said she thinks it has to do with parasites and habitat destruction.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation initially petitioned the US Fish & Wildlife to protect this bee in 2013. If the petition passes, the Bombus affinis will be the first bee species listed as endangered.