On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the Rusty patched bumble bee as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The specimen pictured above is one of 31 individuals that we have databased in the Virginia Tech Insect Collection. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) implements means to protect and conserve species. The ESA is important not only because it works to protect individual species, but by doing so it also works to look after the habitat in which the species lives.
The Rusty patched bumble bee is a native pollinator, once widespread through the eastern United States, and over the past 20 years entomologists have found that it has declined over 90% of its previous distribution. This is alarming not only because the species is an unique and irreplaceable piece of our country’s natural heritage, but because pollinators provide us with free pollination services. Bumble bees allow plants to flower, produce fruit and seeds for the next generations of life. Unfortunately, pollinators including the Rusty patched bumble bee are rapidly declining primarily as a result of habitat loss. The native meadows, forests, and homes of the bees are vanishing.
Protection of the Rusty patched bumble bee and its habitat where it lives is important. The process of listing an endangered species is lengthy and requires detailed study demonstrating the species habitat or range is threatened, has been over-utilized by humanity (e.g. over-harvested), highly impacted from disease or predation, or other human-made factors that affect the species very existence.
Unfortunately, the “rusty” red patches on the back of the bumble bee fade over time, which are faintly visible in the specimen pictured above. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Bee Inventorying and Monitoring Lab has some wonderful images of B. affinis below where you can see the reddish patches on the bee’s abdomen (images CC-Zero by Sam Droege).