Bee found in Minnesota placed on endangered species list

Rusty patched bumblebee collects pollen
In this August 2015 photo provided by The Xerces Society, a rusty patched bumblebee collects pollen from a flower in Madison, Wis.
Rich Hatfield/The Xerces Society via AP 2015

The rusty patched bumblebee has become the first bumblebee in the United States to be listed as an endangered species.

Twenty years ago the bee was abundant in 28 states, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but since the 1990s the population has declined nearly 90 percent.

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

The Fish and Wildlife Service says Minnesota is one of just 13 states where scattered populations of the rusty patched bumblebee are still found.

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"Addressing some of the threats that the rusty patched bumblebee faces from pesticide, to exposure to diseases, to habitat loss will certainly help a wide variety of other native pollinators," said Sarina Jepson, endangered species program director for the Xerces Society, which has advocated for listing the bee for nearly a decade.

Many endangered species are found only in remote areas, but that's not the case with the newly listed bumblebee.

"Rusty patched bumblebees are also found in urban areas in the Twin Cities for example, so people have rusty patched bumblebees visiting their back yard so that's kind of unusual for an endangered species," said Jepsen.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says a combination of habitat loss, disease and parasites, pesticide and climate change likely contributed to the population decline.

The agency will develop a plan to protect the rusty patched bumblebee, but it says the public can help by planting native flowers, limiting pesticide use and leaving native habitat where bees can overwinter.