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A Rare Utah Bee May Be Facing Extinction

The Mojave poppy bee next to a dime for scale."

Scientists in Utah recently petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to consider listing the Mojave poppy bee as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.  It joins the western bumblebee as the second bee native to Utah that is currently under review for the listing. 

Perdita meconis, or the Mojave poppy bee, is among the smallest bee species in the world.  It is about the size of a rice krispie.  It has a dark green head and thorax, with a yellow and black striped abdomen.  This tiny bee was first discovered by Dr. Terry Griswold and his colleagues during a collecting trip.

“In 1988 is when we found it," Griswold said. "We were looking for bees that were on a rare plant, and to our surprise, this small little Perdita showed up.  So we wondered what it was and it turned out to be undescribed, so it was described a couple of years later in 1993.”

The bee is found across a limited range that includes areas around St. George and Lake Mead in Nevada.  Mojave poppy bees forage for pollen and nectar on species of poppies from only two genera, which have been disappearing across the bees’ range.  The loss of these poppies spells disaster for Mojave poppy bees.  

“Another thing that I didn’t mention is, most of the species are specialists on particular plants.  That’s true for this one as well, Perdita meconis, that it is only found on certain groups of poppies.  The rare plants that we were just talking about,” Griswold said.

Research into the causes of the decline of these species, and actions that can be taken to protect it is ongoing.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service takes one year to research the conservation status of a species to determine if it should be considered as a candidate species. 

A decision on the candidacy of the Mojave poppy bee is due in October 2019.  If the fish and wildlife service decide the species warrants candidacy, there will be a 60-day period for public and scientific comment before a final listing decision is made.