Friday, Sept. 13, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Some Southern Nevadans may never see a Mojave poppy bee. And even if they were buzzed by one, they might not know exactly what it is.
But the little black-and-yellow bee is a regional treasure. The quarter-inch-long insect is native to the area and is known to exist only in seven sites, all in Clark County, where it plays an important role in maintaining our environment.
So it was encouraging to learn last week that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was considering protecting the bee under the Endangered Species Act.
Discovered by scientists in 1993, the Mojave poppy bee once was found in more than 30 places across Nevada, California, Arizona and Utah. But its numbers and range dwindled drastically and continue to decline due to several factors, including threats from gypsum mining equipment, recreational vehicles and grazing livestock.
The bee also is suffering from gradual losses of two rare poppy flowers that are key to its survival. That relationship goes both ways, as the bee is a specialist that pollinates the flowers — the Las Vegas bearpoppy and the dwarf bearpoppy.
Female poppy bees feed the plants’ pollen to their young, while males visit the plants to mate with the females. Both carry pollen from plant to plant.
“Unless this bee is protected, the Mojave Desert is at risk of losing three species that define its essence,” said Tara Corneliesse, an entomologist and senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Federal officials will conduct a scientific status review and take public comments before making a decision on protecting the bee. But it’s anybody’s guess how long this process will take. Although final rulings are supposed to be issued in 12 months, it’s taken more than 10 years for officials to make final determinations for some species.
But last week’s announcement was a big step. Only one other bee receives Endangered Species Act protections in the continental U.S.
Meanwhile, many native and honeybee populations nationwide are declining, in some cases at alarming levels, amid habitat loss, pesticide use, pathogen infestations, climate change and other hazards.
The loss of pollinating bees, in particular, poses a significant threat to the food supply.
The loss of native bees has serious consequences for the environment, as wild bees like the Mojave poppy bee are often more effective than non-native honeybees in pollinating native plants.
So here’s hoping things go well for the Mojave poppy bee. Protecting the bee and safeguarding our fragile desert environment are in the best interests of everyone in our region.