One of our fellow Earthlings who’s been hit particularly hard by our use of pesticides and loss of his natural habitat is the rusty patched bumblebee, or Bombus affinis. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), as reported in Atlas Obscura, the population of the rusty patched bumblebee has declined by a staggering 90 percent.
The First Bumblebee Listed Under the Endangered Species Act
This decline, according to the FWS, is due to habitat loss, disease, and pesticide use. Thus, in 2017, Bombus affinis became the first bumblebee to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
This species of bee was once plentiful in 28 U.S. states, as well as two Canadian provinces. But as of 2017, the FWS only found a few small, scattered populations in 13 U.S. states and in one Canadian province.
In this video, published by the California Academy of Sciences’ bioGraphic Magazine, you can see the rusty patched bumblebee in action.
Minnesota Crowns a State Bee
Minnesota’s Twin Cities is one of the few geographical areas where the rusty patched bumblebee can still be found.
Proactively taking Bombus affinis under their wing (so to speak), Minnesotans have jumped into action and crowned this plump and fuzzy pollinator as Minnesota’s State Bee.
Minnesota has earmarked $900k to help residents plant native gardens to support bees.
Money talks and Minnesotans and their legislators are speaking out for Bombus affinis. Through a series of bills, Governor Tim Walz earmarked $900,000 in the state budget to help residents convert their lawns into more bee-enticing and bee-safe meadow-like habitats. As part of the program, Minnesota will reimburse homeowners for 75 to 90 percent of the cost of growing bee-friendly gardens, reports Smithsonian.
Minnesota State Representative Kelly Morrison told the Star Tribune that she hopes the bee haven project will be up and running by spring of 2020. “We think that abundant and diverse floral resources will translate to larger and healthier rusty patched bumblebee colonies,” said Morrison.
“I have gotten a ton of emails and so much feedback from people who are interested in this,” she continued. “People are really thinking about how they can help.”
Native plants, including native grasses, purple prairie cover, Dutch white clover, wild lupine, bee balm, and creeping thyme are all attractive plants to the rusty patched bumblebee. While traditional, manicured, and non-native grass lawns are not. Plus, those types of non-native lawns present a lot of problems. They often require chemical fertilizers, pesticides, a lot of water to grow, and a lot of maintenance. (After all, they shouldn’t be there.)
Yards that are full of native wildflowers, trees, and shrubs are better adapted to local climate and precipitation conditions. In addition, they provide a natural habitat that local bees, other insects, birds, and other animals have already adapted to. Plus, the native plants themselves have adapted to local pests, so they don’t need pesticides or chemical fertilizers to grow.
Bumblebees are particularly vulnerable to pesticides and other toxins.
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, reports Smithsonian, bumblebees absorb toxins directly through their exoskeleton and through contaminated nectar and pollen. So, they’re particularly vulnerable to toxins in the form of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Since rusty patched bumblebees nest in the ground, they’re susceptible to pesticides that persist in agricultural soils, lawns, and turf. In addition, bees are vulnerable to plants grown with genetically modified seeds.
Native plants simply make sense. And lawns full of wildflowers, bees, and local birds isn’t the only benefit of helping native species like bees to thrive. When we support pollinators, we also support the human food supply. Bumblebees pollinate crops including blueberries, cranberries, apples, and tomatoes. It’s hard to imagine life without those fruits, let alone butterflies and bees.