First Bee in Continental US Makes the Endangered Species List

Rusty patched bumble bee. Photo courtesy of Christy Stewart.
Rusty patched bumble bee. Photo courtesy of Christy Stewart.

By Christy Leavitt,

On January 10, 2017, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species. The native bumble bee is the first bee in the continental United States to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Three months ago, the Obama administration designated seven species of bees in Hawaii as endangered.

Environment America and other environmental organizations delivered nearly 120,000 comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service in support of protecting the rusty patched bumble bee during the public comment period on the listing.

Environment America’s Christy Leavitt issued the following statement:

Environment America applauds the US Fish and Wildlife Service for taking action to protect the first bee in the continental United States. Protecting the rusty patched bumble bee and all bees is essential for our ecosystem and our food supply.

If bees go extinct, it’s simple: no bees, no food.

The rusty patched bumble bee pollinates important crops, including apples, cranberries, and alfalfa.

The rusty patched bumble bee is exactly the kind of species that needs protection under the Endangered Species Act. The native bumble bee used to be seen across the Midwest and eastern U.S. and has disappeared from 90 percent of its range in just the last 20 years. Safeguarding the rusty patched bumble bee from harmful pesticides, habitat loss and climate change not only will help this important pollinator but also will likely help other bee populations in the US.

Today’s designation of the rusty patched bumble bee adds to President Obama’s legacy of protecting America’s special landscapes and amazing species. The Obama administration has listed more than 300 species under the Endangered Species Act during the last eight years.

We look forward to the day when we see these bees once again buzzing across the eastern US, even across the South Lawn to pollinate the White House garden.

Environment America is a federation of state-based, citizen-funded environmental advocacy organizations. Our professional staff in 27 states and Washington, DC, combines independent research, practical ideas and tough-minded advocacy to overcome the opposition of powerful special interests and win real results for the environment. Environment America draws on 30 years of success in tackling environmental problems.

US Fish and Wildlife issued its own statement:

In a Race Against Extinction, Rusty Patched Bumble Bee is Listed as Endangered

By Georgia Parham and Tamara Smith,

Just 20 years ago, the rusty patched bumble bee was a common sight, so ordinary that it went almost unnoticed as it moved from flower to flower, collecting nectar and pollen. But the species, now balancing precariously on the brink of extinction, has become the first-ever bumble bee in the United States — and the first bee of any kind in the contiguous 48 states — to be declared endangered.

The endangered designation is made by the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act for species that are in danger of becoming extinct throughout all or a portion of their range. Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius said, “Our top priority is to act quickly to prevent extinction of the rusty patched bumble bee. Listing the bee as endangered will help us mobilize partners and focus resources on finding ways right now to stop the decline.”

Once common and abundant across 28 states from Connecticut to South Dakota, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces, the rusty patched bumble bee has experienced a swift and dramatic decline since the late 1990s. Abundance of the rusty patched bumble bee has plummeted by 87 percent, leaving small, scattered populations in 13 states and one province.

“The rusty patched bumble bee is among a group of pollinators – including the monarch butterfly – experiencing serious declines across the country,” Melius said. “Why is this important? Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world. Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrublands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and our crops require laborious, costly pollination by hand.”

Like other bees, rusty patched bumble bees pollinate many plants, including economically important crops such as tomatoes, cranberries and peppers. Bumble bees are especially good pollinators; even plants that can self-pollinate produce more and bigger fruit when pollinated by bumble bees. Each year, insects, mostly bees, provide pollination services valued at an estimated $3 billion in the United States.

Since 2000, rusty patched bumble bees have been reported in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada. Some populations are so small that it is unclear whether they still exist.

Causes of the decline in rusty patched bumble bee 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. Most likely, a combination of these factors has caused the decline in rusty patched bumble bees.

Melius says there are steps the public can now take to help pollinators like the rusty patched bumble bee. Plant native flowers, even in small plots in urban areas, using a variety that will bloom from spring through fall. Limit or avoid use of pesticides if possible, and always follow label instructions carefully. Foster natural landscapes and leave grass and garden plants uncut after summer to provide habitat for overwintering bees.

The rusty patched bumble bee once lived in grasslands and prairies of the Upper Midwest and Northeast, but many of those areas are gone. The bee gathers pollen and nectar from a variety of flowering plants. It emerges in early spring and is one of the last bumble bee species to go into hibernation in the fall. Because it is active so long, it needs a constant supply of flowers blooming from April through September.

Rusty patched bumble bee colonies rely on survival of their queen bee, the only member of the colony that survives the winter. In spring, a solitary queen emerges from hibernation, finds a suitable nest site and lays eggs fertilized the previous fall. Worker bees hatch, and the colony grows. New queens replace the old, all workers die and the cycle repeats.

More information about the rusty patched bumble bee, the rule listing it as endangered, and ways to help this species and other pollinators is available at

The final rule listing the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered appears in the January 11, 2017, Federal Register and takes effect on February 10, 2017.

The mission of the US Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit

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About Kay Whatley 2309 Articles
Kay Whatley serves as Editor and Reporter with The Grey Area News. Kay is a published author with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Kay Whatley is wife to Frank Whatley, founder of The Grey Area™ newspaper and The Grey Area News online news website.