There are over 4,000 bee species in North America alone. 50 of those species are considered bumble bees. Bumble bees are often what we picture when we think of bees: black and yellow, fat, and fuzzy.
Rusty Patch Bumble Bees Facts
One North American bumble bee of recent interest is the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee. Rusty Patch Bumble Bees are naturally found in the tall grass prairie and grasslands of the upper midwest and northeast regions of the United States. Historically, their range reached from eastern North Dakota to Maine and Quebec, south to northern Georgia. They live in colonies in abandon rodent burrows and other ground cavities.
Rusty Patch Bumble Bees are relatively large bumble bees and can be identified by their black heads, yellow abdomens, and black rear sections. What sets these bees apart are the rust-colored patch on the back of their abdomens.
The Decline Of The Rusty Patch Bumble Bees
Up until the late 1990s, the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee was a fairly common bumble bee in its natural range that included 28 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces. Since 2000, they have only been found in 13 states and 1 province. A field study from 2007-2009 revealed that the historic range of the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee had decreased by 85% and the population had decreased by 95%.
Research has suggested that the decline in Rusty Patch Bumble Bee populations are due to introduced commercial bee species, habitat destruction, and pesticide use.
Because of the recent decline in numbers of pollinators in general, farmers have noticed a decrease in crop production. Buying and releasing commercially raised bees for pollination purposes seemed like a great idea. The only problem is that some of those bees spread a pathogenic fungus, Nosema bombi, throughout the North Americas bee population. The wild bees had little resistance to this pathogen and died.
Habitat destruction is a problem for many species. The Rusty Patch Bumble Bee thrives in open tall grass areas such as prairies where they can have access to many flowering plants and safe places to grow their colonies. Most of the grassy prairies of North America are now tilled for agriculture.
Along with agriculture comes pesticide use. Pesticides are sprayed on crops on the former prairies to protect them from pests that might eat the plants. These chemicals, also, kill the bees who live in and near these fields. Pesticides sprayed in gardens and flower beds are just as harmful.
This alarming decline has cause the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee to be places on the endangered species list in March 2017. It is the first bee in the U.S. to be added to the endangered species list, but unfortunately, probably not the last.
Why We Should Care About Rusty Patch Bumble Bees
Like all bees, Rusty Patch Bumble Bees are important pollinators. They eat the nectar from a variety of flowering plants, and in the process, transfer pollen. According to a report published by the government of Canada, these bees pollinate up to 65 different species of plants, including key food crops, such as cranberries, plums, apples, onions, and alfalfa.
A report by the NRDC.org stated that bees in general pollinate $15 billion in U.S. crops. Bees are not just good for nature, they are good for our food supply and economy.
The Rusty Patch Bumble Bees are just one of 50 species of bumble bees and one of over 4,000 species of bees in North America. So what if one species disappears? The Rusty Patch Bumble Bees are one bee species of many that have seen a sharp decline. If we do not stop the conditions that are creating the demise of this species, similar species will follow suit. Our ecosystems needs a variety of bees and in adequate numbers for a good balance. Different bees pollinate different flowers. A healthy ecosystem has lots of flowering plants and needs a good number of pollinators.
How To Help The Rusty Patch Bumble Bee
Many people across the country are waking up to the growing problem of rapidly declining bee populations. Of the over 4,000 species of bees in North America alone, half of them are seeing a sudden decrease in numbers.
Organizations, universities, and government agencies are conducting research and rolling out programs to protect and revive these species. These include working with farmers and land owners to reduce the amount of pesticide used or find alternative pest control practices, planting cover crops, planting native grasses, and improve the management of grazing lands.
These large groups of people aren’t the only ones who can work to save the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee. You can do any or all of the following.
- Build a pollinator garden by adding flowering plants to your yard that bloom spring to fall.
- Plant native grasses and plants.
- Do not use pesticides.
- Leave undisturbed grassy areas where bumble bees might live.
Bee Conservation Links
Do you want to learn more about bee conservation? Visit these sites for more information and programs.
Bumble Bee Watch – a citizen science project that tracks bees throughout North America
Bring Back The Pollinators – register your pollinator garden
Bumble Bee Conservation Trust – learn about bumble bee conservation efforts