Buzzing with Worry

Hawaiian yellow-faced bees may become endangered.

Many people have never seen a Hawaiian yellow-faced bee. That’s because they’re so rare that one species, found only on Molokai, has been seen only twice in the past 70 years. Seven of the 60 native species of yellow-faced bees found in Hawaii are now being considered for federal protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced last week. Four of the seven species are found on Molokai.

Loss of coastal habitat is the main reason for the bees’ dwindling numbers, according to the Xerces Society, a non-profit organization for insect conservation. The society filed five petitions to the FWS requesting the species be considered for as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The FWS is now initiating a 12-month period to examine factors such as threats to habitat, loss of numbers to disease or predation, and any protections already in place to preserve the species, according to Christa Russell, listing coordinator for FWS Pacific Islands office. Each of the seven species will be considered individually, she added.

“As pollinators of native plant communities, bees fulfill an essential role in the health of our native ecosystems,” said Loyal Mehrhoff, field supervisor for the FWS Pacific Islands office. “These species are likely critical pollinators of one or more native Hawaiian plant species.”

Yellow-faced bees, also known as plasterer bees because they line their nests with saliva, live solitary lives, unlike most bees that live in colonies. The yellow to white facial markings on this type of bee, scientifically part of the Hylaeus genus, leads to its common name, yellow-faced bee.

Yellow-faced bees on Molokai are mostly found in three areas on the Kalaupapa peninsula: Ho`olehua Beach Kalaupapa, Kaupikiawa and Kuololimu. The three species of yellow-faced bees that live in these areas are also found on other Hawaiian islands. One species, Hylaeus hilaris, is found only in Molokai’s Mo`omomi reserve.

Ed Misaki, director of The Nature Conservancy on Molokai that helps manage the Mo`omomi area, said he has seen the bees, but only when a researcher came to look for them a few years ago.

 “Unlike some of our endangered species, these are a little more out of the way and not impacted by average human activity,” explained Mike Richardson, a biologist for FWS.

Nonetheless, he said, people can help preserve the bee by minimizing grazing and off-road vehicles in their habitats and protecting against wildfire. In addition, he said these bees have to compete against non-native species for food.

“Everybody needs to do their part to prevent spread of new and unwanted species,” said Richardson. 

After the 12-month review period is complete, FWS will determine whether or not to recommend these species for protection.

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