The rusty patched bumble bee was just listed as endangered — and its the first bee to acquire such a listing in the continental United States.
This will bring new hope to not only this species, but systems as a whole. A senior conservation biologist for the Xerxes society said in a press release, “Addressing the threats that the rusty patched bumble bee faces will help not only this species, but countless other native pollinators that are so critical to the functioning of natural ecosystems and agriculture.”
The rusty patched bumblebee can be identified by a small rust-colored mark on its abdomen. The species’ presence is imperative for pollinating wildflowers, cranberries, blueberries, apples, and a variety of other crops.
This unique bumblebee once thrived along the east coast of North America from Quebec to Georgia, and as far west as the Dakotas. Now, however, the species exists in only 8% of its historical range following a decline that began in the 1990s. The rapid drop in numbers is a result of habitat loss, climate change, pathogens, and insecticides.
Neonicotinoid insectides or “neonics” in particular are responsible for massive declines in populations of a variety of other bee species. Unfortunately, neonics are the most widely used insecticides on the planet. Tens of millions of acres of farmland are treated with these chemicals every year despite pleas from scientists and farmers to take it off the market. What’s more, these chemicals are sold to us for use on our own lawns without proper warnings.
“Many neonicotinoid pesticides that are sold to homeowners for use on lawns and gardens do not have any mention of the risks of these products to bees, and the label guidance for products used in agriculture is not always clear or consistent.” –The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Neonics are made to be water soluble, so they are easily taken up in both plants and soil. When bees are exposed to treated pollen and nectar, they are often contaminated with lethal doses of the chemical.
In addition to the problems with insecticides, commercial bees (those raised and sold to pollinate greenhouse plants) have made their way into the wild populations, exposing wild bees to a variety of pathogens.
Bees are crucial to a healthy ecosystem. Want to help bees around the world? Find out if the insecticides you’re using contain any of these chemicals on the list of active ingredients here.