May 13 A bumble bee once common in the United
States is disappearing so quickly it should be listed as an
endangered species, environmentalists said in a lawsuit filed
against U.S. government agencies on Tuesday.
The rusty patched bumble bee is now found in fewer and fewer
areas as urbanization and agriculture reshape their traditional
habitat on the Midwestern prairies, said the suit, which was
filed in U.S. district court in Washington, D.C., against the
Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Scientists ascribe the dwindling population to threats
including disease, habitat destruction and pesticides, the
"The leading hypothesis suggests that disease may be playing
a role," said Sarina Jepsen, a program director at the
Oregon-based Xerces Society, which brought the lawsuit along
with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Bumble bees pollinate a wide variety of plants and crops and
are used commercially by farmers to help grow tomatoes in
greenhouses. The wild species may have picked up diseases from
non-native bees brought in by tomato producers, Jepsen said.
The rusty patched bumble bee is named for a distinctive
rust-colored patch on its abdomen. While the exact size of the
population is difficult to estimate, scientists say the relative
abundance of the bee species has fallen 95 percent when compared
with other types.
The Xerces Society petitioned the Interior Department to
consider the endangered listing last year and decided to sue
after receiving no response, Jepsen said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said it could not comment
directly on pending litigation but that it looks carefully at
each petition to decide whether there is a need for more federal
There are no bees currently listed as endangered species,
although several Hawaiian yellow-faced bees are being considered
for the designation, Jepsen said.
Honey bees, which are different from bumble bees and are
widely used in agricultural production, have also experienced
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to release its
annual report on honey bee losses this week amid a fierce debate
between environmental groups that cite pesticides as a main
culprit and some in the chemical industry who say parasites and
other factor are to blame.
The case is The Xerces Society v. Jewell et. al in the U.S.
District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:14-cv-00802
(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Howard Goller and