Lawsuit Filed To Push USFWS To List Suckley’s Cuckoo Bumblebee Under ESA; Would Be Second Listed Bumblebee

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit this week to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

These unique parasitic pollinators were once common in prairies, meadows and grasslands across the western United States and Canada but have declined by more than 78%. The last sighting of the bees was in Oregon in 2017. Over the past two decades, a few scattered individuals have been spotted in California, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.

“Protecting these parasitic bees may seem strange, but parasites play an irreplaceable role in keeping other bee populations healthy,” said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center and a petition co-author. “Imperiled insects like Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees deserve the same rigorous protection consideration we give to mammals and fish. When we fail to aggressively prevent the extinction of small creatures, we create huge ecological ripple effects that end up harming many other species.”

Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees are threatened by declines in their host species, habitat degradation, overgrazing, pesticide use and climate change.

“The fundamental purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to preserve imperiled species,” said Kylah Staley, a legal fellow at the Center. “Delays in providing Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees the protections they need to survive undermines our laws protecting endangered wildlife.”

In April 2020 the Center petitioned to protect Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees. The deadline for the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a final listing decision was April 2021. The lawsuit seeks to require the Service to complete its legally required review.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May, 2021 announced that Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebee, an imperiled species that has recently declined by more than 90%, may warrant ESA protection. The announcement kicked off a one-year status assessment of the species.

After reviewing the information in the petition, the Service concluded there is substantial information that listing under the ESA may be warranted.

This would be the first cuckoo bumblebee protected under the ESA and the second bumblebee, with the rusty patched bumblebee being the first.

The decline of Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees is part of a troubling downward trend in many of the 46 species of bumblebees and approximately 3,600 species of native bees in the United States that are needed to pollinate wild plants. The generalist pollinator is among a rare group of parasitic cuckoo bumblebees that play important regulatory roles in bumblebee communities and ecosystems.

While their specific methods remain unknown, female Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees must fight or sneak into a host colony, then kill or subdue the host queen. The cuckoo bee then lays her own eggs and controls the workers to continue collecting pollen and nectar to feed her offspring.

The survival of Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees is dependent on the welfare of their primary host, western bumblebees, who have declined by 93%. The Center is also working to obtain ESA protection for western bumblebees.

The legal complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

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