After years of decline in bee numbers across the western world, last year saw the first batch of bee species added to the United States federal list of endangered species. Those seven species are endemic to Hawaii, but now for the first time a bumblebee species has the unfortunate honor of being classed as endangered in the continental US.
This is not only the first time a pollinator species has been added from the lower 48 states, but it's also the first bumblebee species. Only two decades ago, the rusty patched bumblebee was a common sight in many meadows right across the states, from Connecticut to South Dakota. But fields have steadily been losing the rusty patched buzz from the symphony of insects, and it now balances on the brink of falling silent forever.
“The rusty patched bumblebee is among a group of pollinators – including the monarch butterfly – experiencing serious declines across the country,” says Tom Melius, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest regional director, in a statement. “Why is this important? Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world. Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrublands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and our crops require laborious, costly pollination by hand.”
The listing of the insect as endangered, while clearly worrying, is an important step. It means that more focus can now be placed on protecting them, including the allocation of funds and efforts to help curb their dramatic decline over the last 20 years. The driving forces of the decline are thought to be varied, including but not limited to habitat loss, the overuse of pesticides, and climate change.
The bees require plants to be flowering from early spring to late summer, and with the dramatic contraction of meadows and temperatures altering the availability of flowers over the seasons, the bees are unable to find enough pollen and nectar to survive.
The current recommendation is to try and restore the bees' habitat to help the species survive. Members of the public are encouraged to start planting native flowers, even if it is only in a small patch of ground, as every little bit helps. Citizens can also reduce the amount of pesticides they use, and try to leave grass and garden plants uncut after the summer in order to provide overwintering sites for the insects.