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Giulia C.S. Good Stefani’s Blog

Bumble Bees in Peril

Giulia C.S. Good Stefani

Posted May 13, 2014

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NRDC along with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation filed suit today on behalf of the rusty patched bumble bee.  Over a year ago, Xerces Society petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of the Interior to add the rusty patched bumble bee to the endangered species list.  The agency is required by law to respond to that petition, and it hasn’t.  So we’re taking them to court. 

Bumble bees are bigger and furrier than honey bees.  Unlike honey bees, bumble bees are also native to North America.  The rusty patched bee has a dark orange patch on its middle, giving the bee its name and making it easy to identify. 

Rusty_patched 2 Christy Stewart 2012.jpg

The rusty patched bumble bee once ranged from Georgia to Maine and from Pennsylvania to North Dakota.  Today, like so many of our pollinators, the rusty patched bumble bee is disappearing from our landscape fast.  The bee is faced with a barrage of threats, including: loss of its historic prairie habitat, toxic pesticides, climate change, and parasites and pathogens spread from commercial bees.  Scientists estimate that the rusty patched bumble bee has already been lost from over 80 percent of its historic range. 

I’m human, and so I attempt to measure the cost of such a loss.  Pollinators are necessary for the reproduction of more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species, and U.S. agriculture estimates that the economic per-year value of native pollinator services is three billion dollars.  But how do you measure the fact that pollinators form the basis of the food web?  If we lose our bees, we put a whole cascade of natural processes at risk.

It’s spring, and somewhere in the northern Midwest the rusty patched bumble bee queens are emerging from hibernation.  Rusty patched worker bees—tiny catalysts of summer—are traveling from flower to flower collecting nectar and buzzing up against pollen.  Like nature’s midwives, they assist flowering plants in the process of fertilization and fruit-making.  Those fruits and seeds feed me and you, the bears, and the birds.

In my front yard, I have finches, black beetles, an occasional butterfly, and a new batch of baby rabbits. So far this spring, I haven’t seen a bumble bee.  Have you?

Photo Credit: Christy Stewart, 2012.

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Beth BerettaMay 14 2014 12:21 PM

I'm in! Thanks for sharing!

Sarah MorehouseMay 14 2014 12:22 PM

Yes, fortunately I have a bunch of them, and also honey bees. I live in Schenectady County, NY.

Tinker BachantMay 14 2014 04:39 PM

I've seen at least one, bu twill keep an eye out , We are gradually destroying ourselves. When the birds, bees and animals are gone, so will the 2 legged variety be.

James HealeyMay 14 2014 05:16 PM

I suspected that all pollinators would suffer from the use of nicotine based insecticides made by Bayer. But until now I did not see any numbers on bumble bees.

Jeff QuattroneMay 14 2014 09:11 PM

I'm going to have a Green Thumb Tent at a local farm market from 6.28 to 9.27 and I will be happy to share the actions.

Patricia KacholdMay 15 2014 12:35 AM

These bees are vital to our health. Without bees to carry pollen from plant to plant our food supply will be in jeopardy. Shame on Bayer for having anything to do with making any insecticide that will harm these very useful and necessary insects.

stevie sheatsleyMay 15 2014 10:40 AM

please help

Wendy O'KrayMay 15 2014 11:22 PM

I live in a large city in Wisconsin, and I have seen at least three so far this spring!

Rosalie S.May 16 2014 01:17 AM

Yes. I live outside a small town in the Pacific Northwest and I have been watching the local population of bumbles for many years. This year, I have seen bombus mixtus, sitkensis, vos, melanopygus and californicus queens and some workers. I also have seen quite a few honey bees. In my experience, if you work to create bumble bee habitat - research plants in your area that bumble bees common to your area prefer - and keep it as free as possible of pesticides/insecticides, you can foster an increase in the local population.

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