BuzzFeed: Why the Big Buzz Over a Little Bee?

Exploring “endangered” vs. “threatened” with the elusive Franklin’s bumble bee

By: Amanda Smith, USFWS Columbia Pacific Northwest Region

A large, fuzzy bumble bee hovers in front of a purple flowering plant
A large, fuzzy bumble bee hovers in front of a purple flowering plant
Photo: Franklin’s bumble bee on lupine, Credit: Brenden White/USFWS

“Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation that the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.” — Richard Nixon

Under the ESA, species may be listed as either “endangered” or “threatened.” While often used interchangeably in common parlance, these are two different words denoting two different conservation actions. “Endangered” means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its geographic location or “range.” “Threatened” means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. All species of plants and animals, except pest insects, are eligible for listing as endangered or threatened. As of February 2017, the FWS has listed 2,328 species worldwide as endangered or threatened, of which 1,652 occur in the United States.

Map with red dots showing records of Bombus franklini in Oregon and California, relative to BLM and USFS land. BLM District boundaries are shown in black and Resource Area boundaries are shown in grey. A red star marks Mount Ashland, the last site where this species was seen (in 2003 and 2006). Credit: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Map with red dots showing records of Bombus franklini in Oregon and California, relative to BLM and USFS land. BLM District boundaries are shown in black and Resource Area boundaries are shown in grey. A red star marks Mount Ashland, the last site where this species was seen (in 2003 and 2006). Credit: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Photo: Records of Bombus franklini in Oregon and California, relative to BLM and USFS land. BLM District boundaries are shown in black and Resource Area boundaries are shown in grey. A red star marks Mount Ashland, the last site where this species was seen (in 2003 and 2006). Credit: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

“Approximately 35 percent of the world’s crops — amounting to $577 billion worth of crops per year — depend on pollinators like Franklin’s bumble bee.” — Research by Bayer Bee Care Program

What threats are pushing this pollinator to the brink of extinction? While we don’t know the precise cause of their decline, the declining number of Franklin’s bumble bees throughout their range is undisputed. Already vulnerable due to their unique haplodiploid genetic system (where females develop from fertilized eggs and males from unfertilized eggs) and small population size, the Franklin’s bumble bee is less able to withstand environmental variation, catastrophic events, and changes in physical and biological conditions.

A close up of a Franklin’s bumble bee on a yellow flower
A close up of a Franklin’s bumble bee on a yellow flower
Photo: Protecting native bees like the Franklin’s bumble bee will help ensure our native plants, gardens, and crops will continue to have an adequate supply of pollinators. Photo: USFWS
Dressed in hat, khaki pants, and armed with a net, Robbin Thorp on the hunt for bumble bees on Mt. Ashland, Oregon, the last known haunt of Franklin’s bumble bee, which may now be extinct. Dr. Thorp’s work helped to sound the alarm for bumble bee declines across North America, inspiring further research, Credit: Xerces Society / Rich Hatfield.)
Dressed in hat, khaki pants, and armed with a net, Robbin Thorp on the hunt for bumble bees on Mt. Ashland, Oregon, the last known haunt of Franklin’s bumble bee, which may now be extinct. Dr. Thorp’s work helped to sound the alarm for bumble bee declines across North America, inspiring further research, Credit: Xerces Society / Rich Hatfield.)
Photo: Robbin Thorp on the hunt for bumble bees on Mt. Ashland, Oregon, the last known haunt of Franklin’s bumble bee, which may now be extinct. Dr. Thorp’s work helped to sound the alarm for bumble bee declines across North America, inspiring further research, Credit: Xerces Society / Rich Hatfield.)
A light, blue hued butterfly with dark spots on its wings rests on a branch in a field
A light, blue hued butterfly with dark spots on its wings rests on a branch in a field
Photo: Fender’s blue butterfly resting on grass. Photo credit: Oregon Department of Transportation
An illustration of three bees showing the defining characteristics of Franklin’s bumble bees in comparison to two other species of bees
An illustration of three bees showing the defining characteristics of Franklin’s bumble bees in comparison to two other species of bees
Photo: Some distinguishing characteristics of the Franklin’s bumble bee to look for: Extended yellow coloration on their middle, between the head and abdomen, which extends well beyond the wing bases and forms an inverted U-shape around the central patch of black; A lack of yellow on the abdomen; A predominantly black face with yellow on the top of the head; and white coloration at the tip of the abdomen. Credit: Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office

USFWS Pacific NW Region

Conservation in the Columbia Pacific Northwest