Honeybees are not native to North America and have never been considered threatened or endangered in the U.S. However, as of August 2023, there were at least nine bee species (not honeybees) native to the continent that were listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.
Whether North American honeybee populations were endangered in the U.S. – and thus awarded special protections by the government under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – has been the topic of online discourse since at least 2017. Some social media users have suggested that the small, buzzing insects are under threat, while others claim that honeybees face no threat of extinction:
U.S. wildlife officials have never considered honeybees endangered or threatened, and they've never been listed under the ESA.
"[Honeybees] are not endangered, threatened, or even all that imperiled. In fact, there may be more honeybee hives on the planet right now than ever before," Rich Hatfield, a conservation biologist with expertise in endangered species, told Snopes via email.
As of this publication, Hatfield worked for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a science-based nonprofit organization with a focus on the conservation of invertebrates. He told Snopes that there are over 20,000 known bee species in the world, roughly 3,600 of which are native to North America.
Honeybees, however, are not included in the latter category. Honeybees, most notably the species Apis mellifera, were introduced to the continent in the 17th century from Western Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia. Just as their origins differentiate from native U.S. species, so do their life-cycle characteristics.
"The main difference between honeybees and most [U.S.] native bees is that native bees are largely solitary. They don't live in hives, they don't have a division of labor, they don't have queens, they don't make honey, [and] they don't make honeycombs," Hatfield, who is also a member of North America's International Union for the Conservation of Species Bumblee Specialist Group, told Snopes
Actually, due to bee-keeping efforts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service reported that U.S. honeybee colonies were on the rise between 2010 and 2020.
All of this is not to say that no bee species have ever been considered endangered in the U.S. Indeed, there were nine species of bee listed as "endangered" under the ESA as of Sept. 5, 2023.
Passed in 1973, the ESA protects plant and animal species that are of "esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our nation and its people." At-risk species undergo an evaluation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, after which the agencies determine whether a given species is endangered or threatened:
- Endangered species are "any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range."
- Threatened species, meanwhile, are "likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range."
Though honeybees are important for the U.S. agricultural community, it is thought that their populations impact native pollinators and compete with endemic bees for the environment and resources. Honeybees may transmit diseases and could pose risks to other native plant species and wildlife