Rusty patched bumble bees were once a common sight from Maine to Minnesota, through the South, including the Appalachians. Yet today, total numbers are down by almost 90%, with existing populations being very small and spotty. And this reduction has happened in just about 15 years.
But recently, the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) got some much-needed good news. In January of this year this bumble bee became an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. It is the first bee to be protected in the continental U.S. (Last year 7 bees from Hawaii also received protection.) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will oversee a plan to save the rusty patched bumble bee from extinction.
The rusty patched bumble bee, like other bumble bees, is an excellent pollinator of wildflowers, cranberries, tomatoes, peppers, and other important crops, including plum, apple, alfalfa and onion seed. Fun fact: Did you know that bumble bees are one of the few bees that can pollinate a tomato flower? Honey bees can’t pollinate them.
“We are very pleased to see one of North America’s most endangered species receive the protection it needs,” said Sarina Jepsen, director of endangered species at the Xerces Society. “Now that the Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered, it stands a chance of surviving the many threats it faces—from the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to diseases.”
It is good news and an opportunity to save the rest of our bees too.
Scientific consensus agrees that pathogens and pesticides are the biggest threats to the rusty patched bumble bee, compounded by a loss of habitat. Neonicotinoids were first introduced in the U.S. in the early 90s. One of the neonics, imidacloprid came into being in the late 90s. At the same time the sharp decline of the rusty patched bumble bee began. Hmmm. We also know that bumble bees are particularly susceptible to neonicotinoids.
Much of the discussion about this bees’ demise has remained focused on pathogens. I hope that neonicotinoids will be given equal weight. And of course we also hope that the listing as an endangered species remains.
To see a great movie about this bee species, check out the short movie, “A Ghost in the Making”. It was recently chosen as the official choice for the 15th annual Wild and Scene Film Festival.
What You Can Do
Your actions can further help the rusty patched bumble bee. Here is what to do:
- Don’t use any products that contain neonicotinoids. It is important to realize you will not see the word “neonicotinoid” on the label. This is a class of chemicals, therefore they will list the name of the chemical. You may see these names on a label: imidacloprid, acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, nitenpyram, thiocloprid, thiamethoxam.
- Please stop using them. Dispose of them. (Don’t pour them down the drain, please. We do not want them in our water supply. )
- Stop using chemical pesticides or herbicides. You don’t need them. Really.
- Garden organically.
- Plant lots of bee loving flowers.
- Tolerate bees in your yard. Bumble bees are such a friendly, furry looking creature. No need to fear them. And they almost never sting.
- Allow the bees to nest in the ground.
- Educate your friends and neighbors.
And some day, maybe some day, you will be lucky enough to see a rusty patched bumble bee.
Photo credit: Sarah Foltz-Jordan, The Xerces Society. Xerces.org