It has been said that every third bite we eat has been provided by a bee. I don’t know about you, but I like to eat. In fact, it might be my favorite thing to do. So when something comes to my awareness that might impend that favorite activity, I pay attention.
In January of 2017, the Rusty Patch Bumblebee was listed on the Federal Endangered Species List. It is my hope that this article, like all the articles on Keeping Backyard Bees, can help spread awareness, understanding, and action to help this little bee make a comeback. It’s not just our food supply that is in danger, but the variety, beauty, and diversity of our wildlife that is at stake.
The Rusty Patch Bumblebee is differentiated from other Bumblebees, in as the name suggests, it has a rusty-colored patch of fuzz on the middle of its back. The queen, however, lacks this marking. All Rusty Patch Bumblebees have a black head.
Native bee species versus the honeybee
Bumblebees are the most effective pollinators due to their size, fuzzy exterior, and “messier” ways of plopping down on pollen and getting it all over themselves. Because of this, they are better able to spread pollen from flower to flower.
Honeybees, which seem to get the most attention, are not even native to the United States and don’t hold a candle to some of the other native species where pollination is concerned. There are, however, around 250 species of bumblebees in the world, and 47 live here in North America.
Bumblebees do better in northern climates due to their fuzzy bodies and larger size. They are able to stay warmer than other species and thus able to start pollinating earlier in the year.
Most native bee species do not produce high amounts of honey, if any. Many are members of a small colony or are solitary bees like the Mason Bee or the Leaf Cutter Bee. See my posts 6 Amazing Facts about Mason Bees and Meet the Leafcutter Bee.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, The Rusty Patch Bumblebee once was found in 28 states but now is only documented in 13.
“The species historical range included Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin.”
“Historically, the rusty patched bumblebee was broadly distributed across the eastern United States, Upper Midwest, and southern Quebec and Ontario in Canada. Since 2000, this bumblebee has been reported from only 13 states and one Canadian province: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.”
To get a feel of what this looks like, I created this map to see how the bee population in the United States has diminished.
I was sad to see that my home state of Michigan is one of the states that has lost the Rusty Patch Bumblebee.
The Xerces Society estimates an 87% decline in population.
Why is the Rusty Patch Bumblebee endangered?
While there is no absolute, cause and effect reason why the Rusty Patch Bumblebee is in decline, studies seem to suggest that it is a combination of several factors.
Habitat loss– Monocultures like lawns and corn fields are replacing the diverse setting of the natural meadow, where a variety of flowers bloom at different times providing food throughout the season.
Use of pesticides– There is a map on the Xerces website which indicates the use of imidacloprid, a highly toxic neonicotinoid in 1995 and how it overlaps with much correlation to the areas where the Rusty Patch has declined in population.
Pathogens– Some suspect that commercially reared bumblebees helped spread the pathogen Nosema bombi. Native bee species had little resistance to the virulent.
What will protection with the ESA do?
It may mean that habitats where the bumblebee resides will receive conservation status and become protected areas. It may also lead to research as to how pesticides are used and their effect on bees.
In January of 2017 the USFWS officially decided that the rusty patched bumblebee should receive endangered status under the ESA. With ESA protection, remaining populations of this species will likely be protected from site specific threats and the bee’s habitat will likely benefit from critical habitat designations, as well as from species recovery plans. Government agencies will also need to address issues such as the registration and use of new pesticides that may be harmful to this species and the movement of commercial bumble bees which may transfer disease to wild bumble bees.
What can you do?
- Plant native plants
- Set up a bumblebee house
- Stop using pesticides
- Shop and support organic farms
- Reduce the size of your lawn
- Spread awareness
For additional information visit:
The Seasonal Bumblebee and The Broody Bee
The US Fish and Wildlife Department
And the video below:
Learn more at BringBackThePollinators.com.
I have seen and documented the rusty patch bumble bee in both Michigan and Colorado in 2017. Just a heads up. They aren’t all gone. 🙂
Are there any plans or a way that we can reintroduce them to areas that they were previously in? I am in Rochester, NY and I have many bumblebees in my gardens every year and have taken many pictures. I have never looked closely for the “rusty Patch” on any of my bees but I will be extra careful this summer to see if I can find some.
I have 2 types of hairy butt bees that come to visit. One loves peppermint in bloom, which I am not sure visits anymore. The other the one I call bumblebee loves comfrey in bloom and still visits. I am in northwest AR.