Bumble bees are some of the most relatable, and respected creatures in the insect world. Their thick, furry coat of pile (what entomologists call the hair that covers their bodies), and their easily recognizable buzz make them a charismatic microfauna akin to megafauna like the polar bear. While they certainly are cute and immensely important for pollination of hundreds of species of wild and farmed plants, bumble bees have been declining in abundance across the globe with some of the worst declines recorded happening right here in the Midwest.
One of the poster-children for this decline has been the Rusty Patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) – one of 46 bumble bee species in North America. The small red-brown patch of pile on its abdomen gives this furry critter its name, and they used to be most abundant in the upper Midwest, particularly in Wisconsin. Recent increases in farmed land, insecticides, invasive pathogens and parasites, climate change, and a “war on weeds” (often native wildflowers that support our pollinators) have all contributed to the decline of this, and several more of these furry fellows.
Thankfully, bumble bee experts across the Midwest recognized the ever-shrinking range of this species, and through public interest and scientific endeavor, have documented the extent and severity of its peril. Places like the UW Madison Arboretum are some of the last bastions for this species, with suprisingly thriving numbers – so much so that they have drawn the attention of conservationists like Clay Bolt (see this awesome documentary on the Rusty-Patched).
Thanks in large part to petitions as well as scientific and public awareness, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed making the Rusty-Patched Bumble-bee the first ever bee to be protected as an endangered species by the Endangered Species Act. Currently, the proposal is under public comment.
While only one of over 4,000 bee species in the US, the protection of the Rusty-Patched bumble bee could open a proverbial floodgate of federal resources aimed at supporting research and conservation efforts for this, and countless other pollinators. Any proposed recovery plan for the Rusty-Patched would include the addition of “bee pastures,” rich wildflower plantings that will support other wild bee species. Bee conservation is a many-bees-one-stone type of activity – the necessary measures to conserve one species will almost certainly have benefits for hundreds more.
To see more information about this, please visit:
To submit a comment during the 60 day public comment period, please read below:
Go to the federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov