Rusty Patched Hero

During the season of new beginnings, bees have been given a new slate. Specifically, the rusty patched bumblebee, which was officially declared as endangered on January 10. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement could not come soon enough. Bee populations are dwindling and, as such vital species, their protection is mandatory.

The Xerces Society is a leading bee conservation. On January 31, 2013 the Xerces society petitioned the United States’ Interior Department to list bombus affinis or the rusty patched bumblebee as endangered. Following a one year delay in response, the organization filed an intent to sue on February 13, 2014. It is through the organization’s diligence that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service finalized the ruling. “Now that the Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered, it stands a chance of surviving the many threats it faces,” explained Sarah Jepsen the Director of Endangered Species at Xerces Society. 

The January 10th ruling is garnering historical context, as the rusty patched bumble bee is the first bee in the Continental United States to gain EPA protection. Unfortunately, obliviousness tends to overshadow appreciation when it comes to bees.

Many people maintain a stance that bees are dangerous and threatening-a nuisance. Bee stings seem to outweigh bee benefits in many minds. This is absurd as bees are key pollinators for the environment. Eighty percent of all flowering plants rely on daily pollination, as well as one third of the nutrients we consume. Crops such as apples, pumpkins, and strawberries rely on pollinators to thrive. Crops such as cranberries, peppers, and tomatoes rely almost entirely on bumblebees.

Bumblebees are super pollinators! They use a technique known as buzz pollination to spread more pollen than the average pollinator by using the flight muscles while still attached to the pollen. Bumblebee bodies are also a great advantage for their pollination abilities-larger bodies and longer, denser hairs help bumblebees to remain active in cooler temperatures, lower light levels, and high elevations. Unfortunately, even with these defenses bees are still vulnerable to environmental threats.  

Worldwide bees are disappearing at alarming rates. This phenomenon is not a sudden nor recent event. Twenty five percent of managed honey bee populations have disappeared since 1990; while 87 percent of rusty patched bumblebee populations have disappeared. Twenty-seven years later survival rates are at a record low-beekeepers reported losing 44 percent of their colonies in 2015. Collectively, one-third of bee populations have disappeared from the United States. 

Bees’ roles as pollinators is so profound, bee endangerment is not only an environmental issue but an economic issue as well. Native pollinators are worth an estimated value of $3 billion. Yearly, bees pollinate about $15 billion worth of crops. The less amount of bees available to pollinate crops results in lower crop yields and higher product costs. The cost of bee declination is an estimated $5.7 billion per year. 

Crop production, which relies on bees, is inadvertently causing the decline of bees. Commercial agriculture is invading and introducing chemicals into bee habitats. The dual effects of agribusiness and industrialization are disrupting bee ecology-increasing bee susceptibility to threats. Systemic pesticides decrease bees’ immune systems which decreases their effectiveness to fight pathogens. Wild bees are not immune to the dangers of these chemicals-commercial bees transfer their pathogens to wild bees, further spreading the infection.

Human actions are a direct infliction on bee populations. Many threats that oppose bees are stemmed from stripping and transforming bee habitats. Human provision and protection of bee habitat is a direct solution for declining bee populations. There are many flowers, including lavender, oregano, and rosemary, that will attract bees to your garden.  Planting flowers to be in full bloom from spring to fall will provide bees their necessary pollen. Assuring this pollen is pesticide free is essential. Rather than purchasing harmful pesticides there are natural solutions to control pest control that will not harm bees. 

Rusty patched bumble bees are paving the way for bee protection. As a super pollinator, these bees have a heightened role in pollination and their placement on the endangered species list is a giant sigh of relief. Activism and protection of bees should not diminish because of this feat. Bees are still not recognized as life-sustaining creatures as much as they are as pests. Agribusiness will continue to harm commercial and wild bees. The combination of the two is lethal to all bee populations. Bees must be recognized for their importance, and commercial farming practices must be counteracted for pollinators to live healthier lives. 

Human lives depend on pollinators. Hopefully, the rusty patched bumblebees’ protection will serve as this reminder. 


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