Beekeeping Wednesday : Bumble Bee

Rusty Patch Bumble Bee

by Peter Cole

We’ve all heard the talk of colony collapse disorder and the combined impact the pests and the environment  are having on honey bees, yet we have not really felt the urgency of the situation we are facing with regards to our pollinators.  I am currently researching MP3 for an assignment in 4H.  I am learning about Managed Pollinator Protection Program and how it hopes to help our pollinators and slow heir decline.  You can expect to read both my essay and Jacob’s in the near future, but today I wanted to share with you what I recently learned about the Bumble Bee.  While the Bumble Bee is not our beloved Honey Bee, it is still a kind of bee and an important pollinator.  When we see what is going on with the bumble bee we can see how in danger our honey bees are for the same reasons. 

bumble bee 2

A key pollinator to thirteen different states and one Canadian province, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee is the first bee in the continental United States declared endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service on January 10th 2017. Like honey bees, bumble bees are among the most important pollinators for blueberries, cranberries, clover, and almost the only insect to pollinate tomatoes. Over the past twenty years, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee has declined eighty-seven percent due to: loss of habitat, pesticides, and loss of crop diversity. With a pollination value of 3 billion dollars annually, the decline of native bees is becoming an important issue.

Rusty Patched Bumblebees have been in decline. Once found in almost half of the US, they are now found in only thirteen states. A variety of causes have led to its decline, the important ones being loss of habitat, loss of crop diversity, and pesticides. Most of the upper Midwest and northeast grassland habitat has been converted to monoculture farms and cities. The grasslands that remain are small, few, and far between. This may not have been a big problem if not for loss of crop diversity. The monoculture farms plant one crop that blooms once a year. The bees have nothing to forage the rest of the year. Also, the pesticides meant to kill bad bugs could also kill the bumble bees, even if applied to the soil, because the bees nest underground.

bumblebee 1

Even though the Rusty Patched Bumblebee does not live in Texas there are many different native bumblebees in Texas that could also be in decline. We should try to conserve bees whether they are endangered or not. An easy way to do that is to plant native bee plants. As beekeepers it will attract honey bees but it will also attract other bumblebees and pollinators. Planting flowers that bloom throughout the year will also help all pollinators. Limiting or stopping pesticide use would benefit our pollinators as well. Being underground nesting bees the Rusty Patched Bumblebee prefers tall grass and old unused dens. So if you have an area of your yard that you can allow the grass to grow taller, it would benefit Bumblebees very much.

The decline of the Rusty Patched Bumblebees has led to its endangered status. However, it could come back if the right steps are taken to help them. Even though they don’t live in Texas we do have native bees that these same steps will help strengthen. Most importantly these steps are easy to do: plant a couple plants in your yard, stop or reduce your use of chemical pesticides and keep let your grass grow a little taller.

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