Description: Black face and solid black abdomen, yellow thorax (center part of the bee’s body)
Habitat: Like all bees, these bumbles love wildflowers found on mountain meadows. What makes the Franklin’s bumblebee special is that they can only be found within the KS region. This gives them the distinction of having the narrowest range of any bumblebee in North America.
Endangered Species Act Listing status: Under review; possibly already extinct
Estimated population: Unknown. Close to 100 were found in field surveys in 1998, but sightings have declined precipitously since then. The last time a Franklin’s was spotted was in 2006 on Mt. Ashland. A Fish and Wildlife survey there in the summer of 2018 found no Franklin’s.
Threats: Like humans who need appetizers, main courses and dessert, bees need a variety of wildflowers to choose from to thrive through the summer. Climate change and destruction of habitat decrease both the range and availability of the Franklin’s favorite flowers. It’s not known exactly what has caused the Franklin’s to diminish in recent years, but diseases from commercial bees brought in to pollinate agricultural crops are a top contender.
Superpower: Volunteer recruitment. Concerned citizens showed up in force to help count these charming little bees in the most recent Mt. Ashland survey, trapping hundreds of bumblebees in nets and releasing them in hopes of finding a Franklin’s. The Franklin’s also has a BFF: Dr. Robbin Thorp, who has studied the bees since the 1960’s. Thorp has conducted hundreds of field surveys, was the last person to see a Franklin’s, and promises to keep searching for them as long as he can walk.
What’s being done? Gaining Federal Endangered Species Act protection for the Franklin’s bumblebee will help protect critical habitat for this and a myriad of species in the KS. We might not be able to save the Franklin’s, but we can preserve hundreds of other native bee species by keeping continuous wildflower meadows intact, protecting them from fragmentation, and keeping them far from commercial farms.
Learn more about our efforts to protect public forests and the wildlife.