In April 2017, news got around about the first bee to land on the US endangered species list: Bombus affinis, commonly known as the Rusty Patched bumble bee. It has a, well, rusty patch on its back. It’s endemic to North America, which means its range is only North America – and not all parts, either. Rusty-patched bumblebees have been decimated nine times over – that’s 90% – from earlier population counts.
This article is a prelude to next week’s Pollinator Week, June 17–23, 2019, whereby I’ll be updating and sharing posts I’ve already written earlier about how we can help bees and butterflies (and maybe even bats). It’s timely, given my previous post on converting lawn to meadow, and how June’s a productive time in the garden where you can still get started! We need honeybees, bumblebees, and native pollinators to help us. So please help them.Jane
Also — bumble bee, bumblebee — it doesn’t matter which one you use. So I use both!
Bumblebees are important pollinators of native and fruiting crops. In some crops, the flowers need the particular buzz of the bumblebee to shake the pollen loose – they aren’t going to give it up for just any old insect!
Two types of bumblebees, B. impatiens (the common eastern bumblebee) and B. occidentalis (the western bumblebee) are kept commercially. It’s through exporting and then importing them again that introduced a disease (Nocema bomba) that the rusty-patched bumblebee has succumbed to.
Just like with the comparatively easy-to-manage European honeybee population and the disease that’s been plaguing them (Colony Collapse Disorder), the best hope these insects have is understanding their lifecycles, habitats, and ranges. And then doing everything we can to buttress their ideal conditions and boost their numbers.
Sometimes, an illness or an epidemic can only be overcome by developing a natural population immunity. One requires large populations where many are lost but the few survive. Then a species can begin to recover.
This Washington Post article tells you more about the bumblebee and the fight for its status. Pesticide use and habitat loss are two factors bedevilling insect and animal populations worldwide. One reader commented that people can create habitat for the bees by ripping out their manicured lawns and creating meadow replacements with water features.
So if you want to help with this, what you need to do is really quite simple, and doesn’t require a lot of space:
- Only mow your yard in the areas of leisure and high traffic;
- Make sure you have a water source that insects can drink safely from – a bird bath, a pond, a stream, or another water feature will do;
- Make sure there are parts where bare soil is exposed in proximity to dead wood, brush piles, variations in terrain, and other architectural or natural features – so that bees have a safe place they can tunnel in the soil.
Are you ready to be a bumblebee scout for science?
The Xerces Society has a few programs for supporting bumblebee science and conservation. You can read about the threats they’re facing, but more importantly, you can help by reporting every bumblebee you see to https://www.bumblebeewatch.org.
Creating yard habitat is what my service is about. You don’t need me to get started, but I can help if it motivates you to make a change. You don’t need a lot of terrain to do something worthwhile, but the more ground you have, the more you can do.
The second thing you can do, if you have suitable habitat or enjoy going for walks in nature, is participate in this study out of York University:
As I mentioned earlier, knowing the lifecycles, ranges, and habitats of the animals and insects you want to protect is critical if you’re going to be effective at preserving their populations. The study’s investigators say we currently don’t know exactly what constitutes high quality bumble bee habitat—especially when it comes to nesting. But they can give you tips on what to look for, and knowing what it looks like afield, you can report back at https://www.savethebumblebees.ca/citizen-science/.
There’s even information on The Missing Link page about training your dog to help sniff out bumblebee nests. This isn’t so wacky an idea after all: hunting dogs already help conservationists find, count, and protect endangered turtles, and there’s probably many other examples besides.