The Two-Way
6:55 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

Scientists Rediscover A Rare Species Of Bumblebee In The U.S.

Take a look at this picture:

A pretty bumblebee you're thinking, but that is actually a very rare bee called Cockrell's Bumblebee and this past August scientists rediscovered it. The last time it was seen in the wild was 55 years ago.

NPR's Chris Joyce filed this report for our Newscast unit:

"Scientists at the University of California at Riverside made the latest discovery in some weeds along a highway in New Mexico. Bumblebees are different from honeybees. There are nearly 50 species native to the U.S., but this one is among the rarest. It's known to live only in an area of about 300 square miles. The California scientists say that's the most limited range of any bumblebee species in the world. That range is mostly in National Forest and Native American tribal land and the bee is not considered in danger of extinction. Like most of the approximately eight million insects in existence, the biology of Cockerell's bumblebee has not been described."

In their press release, the researchers explained that of the native U.S. bumblebees, a few on the verge of extinction. One of them, "Franklin's Bumblebee" has been spotted only once since 2003.

But as Chris explained, Cockrell's bee is special because of the tiny size of its habitat.

What isn't rare is for a species to be rediscovered after people thought it extinct.

"There are many precedents – some of them very recently in the news, in fact – of insects that have been unseen for anywhere from 70 to more than 100 years, suddenly turning up again when someone either got lucky enough, or persistent enough, to cross paths with them again. It is much harder to give conclusive evidence that an insect species has gone extinct than for something like a bird or mammal or plant," said Douglas Yanega, senior museum scientist at UC Riverside.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.