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Most rusty patched bumblebees live for only six months, from about April through September.
Clay Bolt/claybolt.com
Jim McMahon
The rusty patched bumblebee gets its name from the rust-colored patch on part of its abdomen.
Susan Carpenter/ UW–Madison Arboretum
Rusty patched bumblebees are especially good pollinators of plants that produce cranberries.
Brian Synder/REUTERS
A Boost for Bees
An endangered bumblebee gets new protection.

By Joe Bubar

There’s been a lot of buzz about some bees lately. This spring, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the rusty patched bumblebee to the endangered species list. It’s the first bee in the contiguous United States (the area of the country that includes the 48 states that share borders) to be added to the list.*

SAVING A SPECIES

The rusty patched bee was once found in prairies and other grassy areas in 28 states, but its range has slowly been shrinking. Since the late 1990s, its population has dropped by nearly 90 percent.

The bee faces many threats, including diseases and loss of its habitat due to the construction of farms, cities, and roads. Pesticides are also a big danger. Farmers spray these chemicals on crops to protect them from harmful insects, but pesticides can also end up killing bees.

Because the rusty patched bee is listed as endangered, harming it or its habitat is now illegal. The Fish and Wildlife Service will work to develop a plan to help the bee’s population recover, which may include setting new rules on where pesticides can be used.

A SWEET DEAL

The rusty patched bumblebee is one of more than 4,000 bee species native to North America. Like all bees, it plays an important role in nature. Bees help pollinate many types of flowers and plants, enabling them to reproduce. About one-third of our food crops, from blueberries to tomatoes, are pollinated by bees.

Unfortunately, scientists estimate that nearly one-quarter of all bee species in North America are at risk of extinction (no longer found alive). Conservationists are hopeful that the new measures taken to protect the rusty patched bumblebee will also help other bees that share its habitat.

“It’s a really good day for this bumblebee and all of the other bees that are out there,” says Scott Hoffman Black, the head of the Xerces Society, a bee conservation group.

*Seven other bee species are listed as endangered, but they are found only in Hawaii.

This article appeared in the May 1, 2017, issue of Scholastic News Edition 5/6.