On January 11, 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) would be added to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The ruling will become effective February 10, 2017. In issuing its ruling, USFWS stated, "While the exact cause of the species' decline is uncertain, the primary causes attributed to the decline include habitat loss and degradation, pathogens, pesticides, and small population dynamics." Some researchers believe that one of the most significant contributors may have been the introduction of a disease from commercial bee colonies into wild populations.
The rusty patched bumble bee is one of the first bumble bees to appear in the spring when solitary queens begin their colonies. Queens continue egg laying throughout the hive's active months. Worker bees are produced during the summer. They are responsible for collecting food, defending the colony, and taking care of young bees. In late summer and early fall, potential new queens and males hatch. Young queens mate and store sperm over the winter, and the cycle begins again the next spring.
As recently as the 1990s, the rusty patched bumble bee was common across a broad region that encompassed 31 states and Canadian provinces. Subsequently, rusty patched bumble bee populations have declined, and since 2000 it has been reported in only 14 states and provinces. The reduction in territory represents an 87% loss of the species' spatial extent. Follow-up studies have documented continued declines.
For more information
"Endangered Species Status for Rusty Patched Bumble Bee," A Rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Register, January 11, 2017.
"Rusty Patched Bumble Bee: The First Bee in the Continental US to be Protected Under the Endangered Species Act," by Sarina Jepsen, Director of Endangered Species and Aquatic Conservation, Xerces Society, January 11, 2017.
How you can help
Help monitor bumble bee populations. Learn more from Bumble Bee Watch.
Learn more about native pollinators: Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America's Bees and Butterflies, the Xerces Society Guide. Available from the Pier Press Bookstore.