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Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world

Extinct bees return to Britain -- by way of New Zealand

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As the world's bee population continues to decline, a rare species of bumblebee that long-since went extinct in its native Britain may soon return to its native shores, thanks to the return of bees from New Zealand.


Short-haired bumblebees (Bombus subterraneus) were introduced to New Zealand more than a century ago to pollinate crops of red clover. The species was last seen in the UK in 1988, and officially declared extinct in its homeland in 2000, according to the BBC. Even in New Zealand, they only survive at a few sites.


A few repatriated bees are currently resting at London Zoo, which will make sure they do not carry any diseases. If proven healthy, 100 more will be collected in December. The bees will then be released next year into a newly restored site in Dungeness, Kent, which is now full of the wildflowers they once thrived upon.


Britain has lost 98 percent of its wildflower fields in the last 60 years, according to project officer Nikki Gammans of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, one of four conservation groups headlining the effort to restore the bees. Other factors affecting bee loss include the growing use of pesticides, Gammans tells New Zealand's 3 News.


The effort to restore the bee to England how two purposes, according to Poul Christensen, acting chairman of Natural England, one of the other groups involved. "This international rescue mission has two aims - to restore habitat in England, thereby giving existing bees a boost; and to bring the short-haired bumblebee home where it can be protected," he told the BBC.


Image: Bombus subterraneus, courtesy of The Bumblebee Conservation Trust

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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