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Science

Is it a bee or is it a fish? It's a bee fish according to California judges.

The issue presented here is whether the bumble bee, a terrestrial invertebrate, falls within the definition of fish."

bees, fish, bumble fish

Bees classified as fish in California.

Save the bees! Even if you have to call them fish to do so. Will they be rainbow trout, red snapper or puffer fish? Maybe they’ll get their own name and be known forever as bumble fish. It’s likely none of those things, but where’s the fun in knowing that a bee will still be called a bee even when it’s classified as a fish?

People have been concerned about bees and their declining numbers for a while. While it’s customary to run screaming in the opposite direction while waving your arms about any time you encounter one in real life, we kind of need those little buggers. Bees and their fuzzy little limbs and torsos help pollinate plants and crops. Bee pollination is extremely important to commercial farmers and keeps our planet looking the way we’re used to seeing it: full of diverse plants and trees. They're actually pretty cute, too.


As much good as bees do for the environment, sadly they have become endangered. The American bumble bee population declined by nearly 90% due to climate change, habitat loss, pesticides and disease. Rapid decline of the bee population is why three judges in California decided to do what they could to protect the bees from extinction by classifying them as fish. In their ruling, the judges wrote, "The issue presented here is whether the bumble bee, a terrestrial invertebrate, falls within the definition of fish."

In 2018, California classified four species of bees as endangered, but the problem is that the law didn’t explicitly protect land invertebrates under the California Endangered Species Act. The law specifies that it protects endangered "native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant." Because bees are obviously devoid of gills, fins and the ability to survive their entire lives submerged in water, the argument to classify bees as fish was ruled against in 2020. The argument being that the other animals who bear the fish label but aren’t actually fish are invertebrates like sea urchins and anemones.

bees, honeyPhoto by Shelby Cohron on Unsplash

These three judges decided that the lower courts were wrong about excluding bees from the classification. Taking a liberal interpretation of the Endangered Species Act is what has allowed the judges to give bees the new classification, as the law isn’t specific about which invertebrates it's referring to. The judges wrote in their ruling that "although the term fish is colloquially and commonly understood to refer to aquatic species," the legal jargon could be used to justify the inclusion of bees … and frogs. While the judges were at it they decided to throw in frogs as they are protected under the amphibian category.

So there you have it folks. From here on out we shall refer to the bees in California as "bumble fish" and the people who have been fighting for this kind of heightened protection for bees can rejoice. This is a big win for bees and the environment! Now go outside and welcome them with the required greeting as you plant new flowers for them to pollinate.

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