Bumblebees are dying of hunger and in grave danger of disappearing from Ireland's countryside and gardens for good.
Experts warn their loss will trigger a major crisis for wildlife and horticulture as they are our most effective pollinators and will take many of our flowering plants, fruits and birds with them.
The population of the most common bumblebees has plummeted by 14pc in just seven years and a third of our 21 species are critically endangered.
Two of the most vulnerable species, which used to be found all over the country, are now confined to just one small region each.
Dr Una Fitzpatrick, who runs the bumblebee monitoring scheme for the National Biodiversity Data Centre, said their survival was in serious doubt.
"What's happening with our bumblebees is a huge problem. Hunger is killing them. They are literally starving to death," she said.
"They come out of hibernation in February and March and need the nectar from flowering plants for food but the way we manage the landscape now means there aren't enough flowers.
"We keep tidying up nature so we have lots of grassland and parkland with no dandelions or clover or other wildflowers and the bumblebees die of hunger.
"They are our most effective pollinators and without them, our flowers, fruits and other crops will really struggle.
"Maybe we can find other food sources but our birds rely on wild fruit and seeds so they would disappear too."
The plight of the bumblebee here is worse than in Europe overall, according to research published in the journal 'Science' this week.
European populations have fallen by 17pc since the 1970s, the research shows, while in the United States, there has been a drastic decline of almost 50pc.
Dr Fitzpatrick, who coordinates a team of volunteers monitoring 100 sites year round since 2011, said even gardeners keen on flowers were not helping matters.
"There's lots of hanging baskets and containers about but the flowers in them may as well be plastic for all the good they are to bumblebees," she said. "Petunias, begonias, primulas and most of the bedding plants we like so much are useless as sources of nectar but that's what you get in the garden centres. If we could get people to plant bidens and bacopas, it would really help."
The Great Yellow bumblebee, once seen all over Ireland, is now only found on the Mullet peninsula in Co Mayo while the Shrill Carder is now confined to the Burren.
While bumblees' rotund figures make them appear ungainly in flight, their heavy landings on flowers and vigorous vibrations help scatter pollen far and wide.
They are also more robust than honeybees and so able to keep flying and pollinating in rough weather.
"Climate change is an additional stress because the bees react to temperature and come out of hibernation when it gets warmer but plants react to light and flower when the days get longer so the bees come out early and find no flowers around," Dr Fitzpatrick said.
"That's all the more reason why we need to stop tidying up nature and leave winter flowering plants alone."
She added people had no reason to fear bumblebees. "Their stings are for inter-bee combat. You'd nearly want to sit on one before it would sting you." she said.