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Bumblebees becoming endangered (and possibly extinct) is worse than you thought

The first ever bumblebee in the United States has been declared endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

At the turn of the century, the rusty patched bumblebee was a common sight across 28 states, but its population has dramatically declined, and today it can be found in only 13 states — and in those states the volume is low.

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The bumblebee’s plummeting population is believed to be due to a combination of factors, including habitat loss, intensive farming, disease, exposure to pesticides and global climate change.

“Our top priority is to act quickly to prevent extinction of the rusty patched bumblebee,” said Wildlife Service Midwest regional director Tom Melius. “Listing the bee as endangered will help us mobilize partners and focus resources on finding ways right now to stop the decline.”

It’s not just the rusty patched bumblebee that is at risk of becoming extinct. Other species of bee have greatly reduced in population over the last 20 years.

None of this is good news. We need our bees, people; they can’t be dismissed as annoying creatures who buzz around our al fresco dining tables during hot weather. In fact, if it weren’t for bees, those tables would be bare.

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As one of the world’s hardest-working insects, bees are essential to our ecosystem and food supply. As pollinators (like birds, bats, beetles and butterflies), they transfer pollen and seeds between flowers, fertilizing plants to enable growth and food production. Cross-pollination is responsible for at least 30 percent of the world’s crops (including apples, berries, cantaloupes, cucumbers, alfalfa and almonds) and 90 percent of our wild plants.

Environment America’s Christy Leavitt told it like it is. “If bees go extinct, it’s simple: no bees, no food,” she said.

It won’t only be our stomachs that take the hit if bees become extinct. The cost of bee decline on the global economy is estimated to be as high as $5.7 billion per year. (U.S. honeybees produce around $150 million in honey annually.)

It might not be too late for the rusty patched bumblebee, but it is the last chance for this species. To do your bit in your little corner of the world, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends growing a garden or adding a native flowering plant to yards; minimizing pesticide use, leaving some areas of your yard unmowed in summer and unraked in fall to give bumblebees a safe place to build their nests; and leaving some standing plant stems in gardens and flower beds in winter. If you come across bumblebee nests, leave them alone.

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