The Rusty Patched Bumblebee

The rusty patched bumblebee has been on the endangered species list since 2017. However, this species is still at risk of extinction despite being protected by the Endangered Species Act. Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) ignored the species’ declining status by refusing to designate critical habitat. Although the rusty patched bumblebee—a habitat generalist—is only one of many North American bees, it still plays an important role in pollinating many common crops that rely heavily on the species. Therefore, government agencies ought to conserve the rusty patched bumblebee before it’s too late.


Habitat Loss

Due to industrial agriculture, the grasslands and prairies home to the rusty patched bumblebee “have been converted to monoculture farms or developed areas,” according to the USFWS. Yet, ironically, the agency still argued that critical habitat isn’t warranted for this species, even though it has lost 90 percent of its historic range. Designating critical habitat for the rusty patched bumblebee is crucial to preventing even more habitat loss because special areas would be conserved to aid the survival and recovery of this species. Businesses and projects involving federal assistance would have to follow stricter guidelines to avoid adversely affecting the bees’ habitats. The USFWS must reconsider its decision and designate critical habitat for the endangered rusty patched bumblebee.


Critical Role Of Pollinators

Over 75 percent of all flowering plants require the help of pollinators. Hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, and bees are examples of pollinators that help plants reproduce by carrying pollen from one plant to another. Bumblebees are one of the most effective pollinators, especially of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and tomatoes. Their ability to sonicate—dislodge pollen from anthers by producing strong vibrations—increases pollination productivity, a technique that honey bees do not use. A decline in any species of bumblebees threatens the security of our food systems. In particular, farmers may see smaller yields of crops that are almost exclusively pollinated by bumblebees, such as tomatoes. The rusty patched bumblebee is the first species of bumblebees listed as endangered in the continental United States; this is a warning that insect pollinator populations are on the decline and need conservation efforts to survive.


It’s Just One Species

Some wonder how the loss of one species of bees—out of over 4,000 in the U.S.—could impact the country’s food system. Furthermore, the rusty patched bumblebee is a habitat generalist, prompting the USFWS’s claim that this species does not need critical habitat because it “can find the habitat it needs in a variety of ecosystems.” However, the loss of the rusty patched bumblebee, an important species of pollinators, would impact the crops and ecosystems that depend on the role it plays. A decrease in capable pollinators means that farmers may see smaller harvests, which would hurt both individual livelihoods and collective food security. Additionally, just because the rusty patched bumblebee can survive in a variety of environments doesn’t mean one can ignore the dramatic habitat loss that has contributed to this species’ decline in recent years. Therefore, this species deserves protection granted by critical habitat designation because its survival would impact the plants it’s responsible for pollinating.


How To Protect Pollinators

Protecting pollinators is in the public interest, and everyone from farmers to government agencies to gardening enthusiasts can help. Congress should pass the Saving America’s Pollinators Act to ban pesticides that are harmful to bees and other pollinators until research determines otherwise. The EPA needs to designate critical habitat for the rusty patched bumblebee to ensure the survival and recovery of this species. As for individual people, planting native flowering shrubs or even growing a bee-friendly garden in one’s yard can help revive bee populations. All conservation efforts, big and small, are needed to prevent further decline in this endangered bee species.