WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to grant Endangered Species Act protection to the highly imperiled Southern Plains bumblebee.
Southern Plains bumblebees have declined over multiple decades and are now half as abundant as they were historically. Recent observation records show steep declines in the southern Great Plains states of Oklahoma and Texas and in the southeastern states of Alabama and Mississippi.
“These big, beautiful bees are disappearing at an alarming pace, but there’s still time to save them,” said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center and the petition’s author. “Extinction is a political choice, not an inevitability, so we’re urging the Fish and Wildlife Service to take fast action to save these bees.”
The bumblebee previously inhabited 26 states, including throughout the Great Plains and along the southeastern Gulf coastal plain. It has now disappeared from Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Dakota and Ohio.
Multiple, simultaneous threats are contributing to the bee’s decline. Habitat loss and degradation limit nutrition from diverse pollen and nectar sources while pesticides reduce survival rates, harm immune systems and hinder reproduction.
Southern Plains bumblebees are foraging generalists with a broad floral diet that allows them to inhabit a wide variety of areas. They provide essential pollination service to wild plants and to pollinator-dependent crops.
To survive, the bumblebees need open areas with a variety of flowering plants that are not poisoned by pesticides, heavily grazed or plowed over.
“The Southern Plains bumblebee is disappearing because people aren’t leaving enough space for this remarkable creature to exist,” said Robert Ukeiley, a senior attorney at the Center who has worked for decades to conserve and restore grassland in the Southern Plains. “We know what works and we have the tools to save this bee. We need the power of the Endangered Species Act to help it dodge extinction.”
Southern Plains bumblebees are one of the largest bumblebees in North America and are distinctive for the flattened hairs on their abdomen, which give them a slicked-back look compared to fuzzier bumblebees.
Like other bumblebees, they are social insects living in colonies with a single queen and workers that can number in the hundreds. They make their nests in pre-existing cavities like rodent burrows and downed logs, or on the surface of the ground in large grass bunches.
They are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.