Bee lovers in Oregon are buzzing.
A rare bumblebee that mysteriously disappeared in Oregon 15 years ago has resurfaced atop Mount Hood, according to the Oregon Zoo. The Western Bumblebees -- once-common pollinators in the West that lost most of its population in recent years -- were spotted near the mountain’s Timberline Lodge this summer, NWCN reports.
"In the last 15 years there have only been about 15 sightings of this bumblebee west of the Cascades," biologist Rich Hatfield from the Xerces Society, a bee conservation group, said in a statement. "This discovery suggests that this species might have a chance to repopulate its range."
Hatfield spent six weeks identifying the rare Western Bumblebees in the Fort Hood National Forest over the summer thanks to funding from the Oregon Zoo Foundation's Future for Wildlife program. He only discovered the rare pollinator in his fourth week.
Scientists say the Western Bumblebee population declined for a variety of reasons including pesticides, habitat loss and climate change. "The western bumblebee is a red flag," Hatfield said. "Their disappearance is not a natural process. But the thing that gives me hope is that if their disappearance is caused by people, maybe we can do something to reduce or reverse it."
According to the Xerxes Society, Western Bumblebees or Bombus occidentalis were once common in western Canada and the United States. While they can still be found in the north, the populations in southern British Columbia and California have practically vanished. The bees, which come in three color variations, pollinate greenhouse tomatoes, cranberries and alfalfa among others.
This isn’t the first time bees have created a buzz in Oregon. Last June, an estimated 50,000 bees died in Wilsonville from the insecticide Safari. The bees were found dead at a Target parking lot where 55 linden trees were sprayed with the insecticide that is meant to ward off aphids, The Oregonian reports.
“I’ve never seen an incident on this scale,” Mace Vaughan, pollinator conservation program director with the Xerces Society, told KOIN 6 News. Vaughan says bumblebees are “probably the most important pollinator” in the region, which has one of the largest seed production crops in the country.