In just two decades, the rusty-patched bumblebee has disappeared from ninety percent of its historic range, being currently on the brink of extinction. This has been thanks to the lethal combination of the spread of deadly diseases across the colonies, the overuse of pesticides in commercial farming, the widespread loss of habitat, and climate change.

A research made by the Xerces Society has shown the sharp decline in rusty-patched bumblebee populations. They went from living in over twenty-eight states to being limited to a few separate, small colonies in twelve states.

A research made by the Xerces Society has shown a sharp decline in rusty-patched bumblebee populations. Photo credit: Caroline Hlohowskyj / Chicago Wilderness
A research made by the Xerces Society has shown a sharp decline in rusty-patched bumblebee populations. Photo credit: Caroline Hlohowskyj / Chicago Wilderness

And this is according to the latest counts of their populations, which date back to the beginning of the century, making probable that there are considerably fewer bees remaining in the wild since then. And the bees’ dire situation is not helped by the difficulty to keep track of these insect populations in the wild.

One of the four thousand bee species native to North America, the rusty-patched bumblebee has seen increased use in commercial farming. They are bigger than the other species, which causes higher vibrations in the flower anthers, producing bigger, better harvests.

They are also more resilient than the typical honeybee. In particular, the rusty-patched bumblebee, which gets its name from the red crescent patch on its abdomen, is an important pollinator for about one-third of all crops in the United States.

Compared to honeybees, which live in large colonies of up to fifty thousand individual bees and produce honey to survive through winter, bumblebees instead live in much smaller colonies that range from fifty to five hundred individual bees. They also do not produce honey as they do not live through winter. And because of these factors they rarely sting.

The bumblebee as an endangered species

Their scientific name is Bombus affinis, and they commonly build their nests underground, in old rodent burrows. Colonies in captivity tend to be much larger than those of their wild brethren, with up to two thousand individual bees. The rusty-patched bumblebee used to be the most common species of bumblebee in southern Ontario, until the eighties.

Now, they can only be found at the Pinery Provincial Park in Lambton County, which led to the creation of a recovery project by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Surveys made between 2001 and 2008 have found populations of this bumblebee only in southern Ontario, Maryland, Iowa and Illinois.

However, its use in commercial farming might have ended causing more harm than good, the bumblebees employed in agriculture got infected with a rare disease, and ended spreading the virus to the wild bumblebees. This helped collapse the number of colonies over the years, similarly to what previously happened to honeybees.

Their situation has led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make a recommendation last Thursday, at the petition of the Xerces Society, for the rusty-patched bumblebees to be listed as an Endangered Species, to assure federal protection. So far, the rusty-patched bumblebee is listed as a critically endangered species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Nonetheless, they are not the only species of bees affected by these factors. It is estimated that ova quarter of all forty-seven wild bee varieties in the United States are also facing the risk of extinction.

And even countries as far as Russia have problems with their bee populations. Eight species of bumblebees are listed in the Red Book, the Russian government document containing endangered and protected species in the country.

More controversy

Federal officials want to delist the red wolf from the List of Endangered Species, something that could mean the extinction of the species. Currently, there is less than thirty red wolf left in the wild; something that has been possible through federal protection and taxpayer spending. However, there is a new controversy, since many scientists believe this was never an actual species of wolves, to begin with.

“This is a case of well-intentioned biologists going back several decades, trying to bring back a species they believe existed. But it turns out now the science clearly indicates red wolves from the very beginning were nothing more than a hybrid between a coyote and a gray wolf. This animal is not an endangered species. This animal is a hybrid and should be delisted immediately” has declared Gary Mowad, a former deputy chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Nonetheless, Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition disagrees with Mowad. For her, “all canids are a soup,” which means there are not a “real” and “pure” species of canid in North America. The red wolf has been protected since the sixties, with US Fish and Wildlife biologists spending half and decade and thirty-five million dollars protecting the species.

Source: Winston-Salem Journal