The Endangered Bumble Bee
What’s the big deal, right? Well, bumble bees are the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes. They are more effective pollinators than honey bees for some crops because of their ability to “buzz pollinate”, a technique used by some bumble bees to release pollen which is more or less firmly held by the antlers. The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.
Historical reports show that the rusty patched bumble bee’s habitat range included 28 states, the District of Columbia and 2 provinces in Canada. But since the year 2000, this bee has only been reported in 13 states and 1 Canadian province. This alarming news is what motivated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to officially declare the rusty patched bumble bee an endangered species.
These bumble bees once occupied grasslands and tall grass prairies of the Upper Midwest and Northeast, but most of these grasslands have been lost , degraded, or broken up by conversion to other uses such as cities and roads. What’s left tends to be small and isolated, leaving little for bumble bees that need areas that provide nectar and pollen from flowers, nesting sites, and overwintering sites for hibernating queens. Technology advances may have improved the operating efficiency of farms, but they have led to practices that harm bumble bees such as:
- Increased use of pesticides.
- Loss of crop diversity resulting in flowering crops being available for shorter periods.
- Loss of hedgerows and the flowers growing there.
- Loss of legume pastures.
Pathogens and parasites may also pose a threat to rusty patched bumble bees, but their effects are not well understood.
So what can we do? Here are some suggestions:
- Grow a garden or add a flowering tree or shrub to your yard. Even small areas or containers on patios can help provide nectar and pollen.
- Use native plants in your yard such as lupines, asters, bee balm, native plants and spring ephemerals. Also consider spring blooming shrubs like ninebark and pussywillow.
- Provide natural areas where bumble bees can build nests. Keep some unmowed, brushy areas and tolerate bumble bee nests if you find them. Reduce soil tilling and mowing where their nests might be.
- Minimize the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizer whenever possible or avoid them entirely.
Finally, report sightings of the rusty patch to bumblebeewatch.org . If this bumble bee increases its numbers and comes off the endangered species list, you’ll clearly see the fruits of your labors.
-Terry Olson, Titan Outlet Store Team