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Endangered Species Act Protection Sought For Bumblebee Species

Pixel Acuity LLC via Smithsonian Institute Entomology Collections, Usage Rights: CC0

Suckley's cuckoo bumblebee has historically been found across western North America. But in the last 20 years, it's only been found in a handful of places. This has pushed the Center for Biological Diversity to petition for Endangered Species Act protections for the bee.

It's known as a social parasite that sneaks into western bumblebee nests, subdues or kills the queen, and tricks the workers into caring for its own young. By doing this, Suckley's bee helps weed out weak or unhealthy nests of western bumblebees and improve the overall health of the population.

But a decline in western bumblebees and an increase of threats such as pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change has pushed Suckley's cuckoo bumblebee toward extinction.

"In the last about 20 years or so they've really only been found in a handful of sites. And their range reduction estimation has been about 50 percent reduction in range, while their abundance reduction is about 90 percent. So there's really only like ten percent of the number of individuals that we've seen," said Tara Cornelisse, senior scientist of the endangered species program at the Center for Biological Diversity.

There is a small chance these bees are doing better than previously thought and that their populations are just limited to small areas.

"The thing about this species is that it did have such a wide historic range. So what we are hopeful for the species is that it is surviving in pockets throughout that range in a way where if our protections come on board that it could then actually start recovering," said Cornelisse.

It takes a minimum of 15 months for a decision to be made on the bee's status. If the bee receives Endangered Species Act protections, a recovery plan will be created to help boost numbers.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Ivy Engel, at iengel@uwyo.edu.

Ivy started as a science news intern in the summer of 2019 and has been hooked on broadcast ever since. Her internship was supported by the Wyoming EPSCoR Summer Science Journalism Internship program. In the spring of 2020, she virtually graduated from the University of Wyoming with a B.S. in biology with minors in journalism and business. When she’s not writing for WPR, she enjoys baking, reading, playing with her dog, and caring for her many plants.
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