While honeybees have long been in mysterious decline, new research says the American Bumblebee may taking the brunt of the catastrophe. Its population has declined by nearly 90 percent over the last two decades, disappearing entirely from Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Idaho, North Dakota, Wyoming and Oregon. In the Midwest and the Southeast, their numbers have been decimated by at least half. Now, activists are petitioning the government to intervene and prevent further decline.
Scientists say there are multiple culprits contributing to the bumblebee’s decline. Pesticides are a huge factor, disrupting bees’ communication strategies, interfering with their natural homing systems and making them more susceptible to diseases. Live Science found that the states that have seen the largest drop in bumblebee populations have also seen the largest jump in pesticide use. Loss of habitat has also taken a toll, with suburban sprawl and the proliferation of yards creating vast “deserts” for bumblebees across the Great Plains and the Southeast.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has started the process of determining if the American Bumblebee should be added to the endangered species list. Depending on the results of that survey, bumblebees could receive federal protections. “This is an important first step in preventing the extinction of this fuzzy black-and-yellow beauty that was once a familiar sight,” said Jess Tyler, a Center for Biological Diversity scientist, in a statement. “To survive unchecked threats of disease, habitat loss, and pesticide poisoning, American bumblebees need the full protection of the Endangered Species Act right now.”