Saving the rusty patched bumblebee means saving its habitat

Rusty patched bumblebees have pollinated plants for millions of years — but they're in danger. It’s crucial that we protect this fuzzy pollinator’s habitat.

Save the bees

BeeBalm, USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr | Public Domain

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When the trees start to bud and the birds chirp a little louder, rusty patched bumblebees are among the first to emerge from hibernation to search for plants to pollinate.

Known for the small pop of rust-colored fuzz on their backs, these bees have been performing this job for millions of years and have even evolved to have little pollen pouches to help them with their calling. They were the first bumblebee species to be listed as endangered in the continental U.S., and their numbers are still meager.

That’s why we’re calling on the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to establish critical habitat for the rusty patched bumblebee.

Our ecosystems depend on bees

While they may be small in size, clocking in at just half an inch, rusty patched bumblebees‘ contributions to our planet are immeasurable.

They have a special bond with flowers and vegetables, one that scientists refer to as mutualistic. When these bees pollinate flowers, they’re not only feeding themselves, they’re spreading the flower pollen around to other plants — a critical way that flowers reproduce.

And many flowers have evolved in turn to be more appealing to bees.

And it’s not just flowers that rely on our bees — plants including tomatoes, squash, nuts and even cotton rely on bees for pollination.

A turn for the worse for the rusty patched bumblebee

In 2017, rusty patched bumblebees made history, but not in a good way. Their population had plummeted by nearly 90% since the 1990s, making them the first bumblebee in the continental U.S. to make it on the endangered species list, a list that no animal wants to be on.

The Fish and Wildlife Service can help protect the rusty patched bumblebees by protecting their critical habitat.

The agency says that pesticides and an unknown pathogen are likely at fault when it comes to the bees’ dramatic decline, and points to habitat loss and degradation as an ongoing challenge for survival. Yet, oddly enough, it chose not to protect habitat for the rusty patched bumblebee.

Establishing protected habitat is crucial to ensuring the long term survival of our planet’s pollinators. If our pollinators are to recover, they’ll need the protected space to do so. The FWS should act quickly to safeguard more habitat for the rusty patched bumblebee.


Steve Blackledge

Senior Director, Conservation America Campaign, Environment America

Steve directs Environment America’s efforts to protect our public lands and waters and the species that depend on them. He led our successful campaign to win full and permanent funding for our nation’s best conservation and recreation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He previously oversaw U.S. PIRG’s public health campaigns. Steve lives in Sacramento, California, with his family, where he enjoys biking and exploring Northern California.

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