The bee is back: Rare bumblebee discovered on Mt. Hood - KPTV - FOX 12

The bee is back: Rare bumblebee discovered on Mt. Hood

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Photo: Oregon Zoo Photo: Oregon Zoo
Mt. Hood, OR (KPTV) -

A rare bee that seemingly vanished west of the Cascades more than a decade ago has been found again in the Mount Hood National Forest.

The western bumblebee was one of the most common pollinators in the west prior to the mid 1990s. In the last 15 years, there have only been about 15 regional sightings.

With funding from the Oregon Zoo Foundation's Future for Wildlife program, Xerces Society biologist Rich Hatfield spent six weeks this summer identifying bumblebee species in the Mount Hood National Forest. It wasn't until the fourth week that he discovered a dozen of the rare western bumblebees near Timberline Lodge.

"This discovery suggests that this species might have a chance to repopulate its range," he said.

The western bumblebee is one of five once-common native bumblebees that have seen populations plummet in recent years. Franklin's bumblebee, a close relative of the western, native to a small area in southern Oregon and northern California, may already be extinct.

Experts say the declines are part of a global bee crisis.

"One out of every three bites of food that we eat comes from a plant that was pollinated by an animal, and usually those animals are bees," Hatfield said. "The fact that any bee could disappear is a scary proposition."

Scientists attribute bumblebee declines to a variety of factors. Introduced pathogens are the leading hypothesis for western bumblebee decline, according to the zoo. Pesticides were to blame for killing 50,000 bumblebees in Wilsonville last June.

The Xerces Society survey produced the first official list of bumblebees present in the Mount Hood National Forest, and the resulting data will assist the Forest Service in better safeguarding the area for wildlife.

With the help of a laser-triggered shutter and a flash that fires at 1/50,000th of a second, Oregon Zoo photographer Michael Durham captured what is believed to be the first high-speed photo of a western bumblebee in flight. It was caught during Hatfield's survey.

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