Rare Western Bumblebee Reemerges In Oregon After Mysterious Disappearance 15 Years Ago

By Philip Ross on September 19, 2013 5:33 PM EDT

rare bumblebee
The western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis, is a North American bumblebee species that had all but vanished from the western half of its natural range since the late 1990s. It has suddenly reappeared in Oregon state, and was also spotted earlier this year in Washington, officially photographed buzzing among flower blossoms north of Seattle. (Photo: Reuters)

Fifteen years ago, the western bumblebee mysteriously vanished west of the Cascades, a mountain range that stretches along western North America from British Columbia to Northern California. The bumblebee was an important pollinator in Washington, Oregon and California up until the late 1990s. "If you ate a Willamette Valley-grown tomato or pepper before the mid-'90s, there's a good chance it was pollinated by the western bumblebee," the Dalles Chronicle noted.

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But recently, the rare western bumblebee, or Bombus occidentalis, has been spotted in the Mount Hood National Forest. Biologists identifying bumblebee species in the forest stumbled upon 12 of the rare buzzers. The bees, which reach an inch in length and have white abdomens, haven't been seen in the area for over 15 years.

"In the last 15 years there have only been about 15 sightings of this bumblebee west of the Cascades," biologist Rich Hatfield of The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation said in a public statement. "This discovery suggests that this species might have a chance to repopulate its range."

According to Hatfield, one-third of our food comes from a plant pollinated by an animal, namely bees. "The fact that any bee could disappear is a scary proposition," he said. "We're approaching a tipping point where our food security will be at stake."

Oregon isn't the only place the western bumblebee has reemerged. In July, scientists found more of them in Washington state.

Scientists believe the bees' disappearance could be attributed to pesticide use and disease. Parasites, habitat fragmentation and a deadly fungus have all been linked to bee population decline in the Pacific Northwest, according to RT.

The Xerces Society would like you to contact them if you spot a western bumblebee in your area.

Read more from iScience Times:

Bumblebees Copy Each Other to Find Best Flowers: Study

Pantego Texas Killer Bees Kill Horses: What Caused 30,000 Swarm To Attack?

Bomb-Sniffing Bees: How Are They Being Trained To Detect Land Mines in Croatia?

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