Population of the rusty patched bumblebees have been declining sharply over the course of last few years because of increased use of pesticides and climate change and this has led the US Fish and Wildlife Service to add these bees to its endangered species list for the first time.
According to a statement on the US FWS website, these bumblebees are now “balancing precariously on the brink of extinction” and priority of the agency is to take actions quickly to stop the population decline of these bees. The listing of the species in the endangered list will enable the agency to mobilize partners and focus resources on finding ways to stop the decline.
“Abundance of the rusty patched bumble bee has plummeted by 87 percent, leaving small, scattered populations in 13 states and one province,” down from 28 states in the 1990s, the agency noted in a press release. Since 2000, rusty patched bumble bees have been reported in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada. Some populations are so small that it is unclear whether they still exist.
Bees are one of the most important pollinators. Rusty patched bumble bees are known to pollinate many plants, including economically important crops such as tomatoes, cranberries and peppers. Each year, insects, mostly bees, provide pollination services valued at an estimated $3 billion in the United States. Without these bees, forests, parks, meadows, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and crops that we depend on will require laborious, costly pollination by hand.
The rusty patched bumble bee once lived in grasslands and prairies of the Upper Midwest and Northeast, but many of those areas are gone. The bee gathers pollen and nectar from a variety of flowering plants. It emerges in early spring and is one of the last bumble bee species to go into hibernation in the fall. Because it is active so long, it needs a constant supply of flowers blooming from April through September.
Rusty patched bumble bee colonies rely on survival of their queen bee, the only member of the colony that survives the winter. In spring, a solitary queen emerges from hibernation, finds a suitable nest site and lays eggs fertilized the previous fall. Worker bees hatch, and the colony grows. New queens replace the old, all workers die and the cycle repeats.