For the first time in American history, a bumblebee species has been added to the endangered species list. The rusty patched bumblebee, so prevalent two decades ago, is now a struggling population.

A recovery plan is in the works to encourage people to provide the bees with more habitat as well as reduce pesticide use.

Many of these steps are seen helpful for other struggling bees and even monarch butterflies, all of which pollinate cultivated vegetables and fruits and other plants, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told The Associated Press.

The Bumblebees Are Disappearing

The rusty patched bumblebee — which features a striped black and yellow marking on its back and a long black tail — buzzed on the East Coast and a large part of the Midwest until the 1990s. Only scattered groups are spotted today in 13 states, such as Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and Ontario in Canada.

In a crash that occurred so rapidly that few biologists took significant notice, the range and number of colonies seen have dropped by around 87 percent since the late ‘90s.

“I’ve never seen one, and I live here pretty close to where there have been populations documented,” said Tamara Smith, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minneapolis.

The new designation announced Tuesday is focused on protections for the bumblebee species, including regulations against factors that hurt the creatures’ habitat and colony formation.

Potential Causes

Experts are now probing a number of potential culprits, from pesticide exposure and disease to climate change and the domino effect of decreasing populations that make it difficult for bees to find a mate.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a Portland-based group that petitioned for the endangered listing, preciously pinpointed the long-term use of insecticides as well as the spread of pathogens from commercially raised bumblebees to those living in the wild.

The governing agency is looking at factors overlapping in the current declines in bumblebees, honeybees, and monarch butterflies. It is also sounding the alarm on survival threats to all 48 North American bumblebee species, placing seven yellow-faced bee species in Hawaii — the only native bees in the state — last September on the same endangered list.

But why has the rusty patched bee entered the list when others have not? Smith emphasized its former bounty and surprising plummet, where people around the year 1995 assumed it would stay in places where it was expected to be. Cities that used to buzz with the bees, including Madison, Wisconsin, soon no longer have them.

Prospects For The Bees And The Environment

The disappearance of the bees is not without grave consequences.

Pollinators help keep parks, forests, and numerous ecosystems survive as well as offer billions of dollars in pollination services every year, warned Tom Melius, the service’s regional director in the Midwest.

Apart from benefitting crops such as tomatoes and peppers, they assist in the growth of flowering and wild plants that create seeds and fruits important for the food chains.

In honeybees, the almost 3.5 million colonies back in 1989 has fallen by a million when colony collapse disorder was first seen in 2006, the agriculture department revealed. Ten years have passed, but the colonies have only slightly increased, or by around 100,000.

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