Our Native Bumblebees In Trouble

Native bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) on coneflower

Bumblebee on flower

In 2017 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized 10 more animal species as Endangered Species, giving them protections under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. These 10 species include 7 species of bees. Endangered status would afford the rusty-patched bumblebee protection under federal law.

Honeybees, which are not native to the U.S., build and live in the same nest (hive) for many years.  Bumblebees, on the other hand, build their nests in the ground, hollow crevices of trees, and other places. Populations of rusty-patched bumblebees were once widespread across the U.S. and Canada. Today their numbers their populations are spotty and limited to the northeastern quarter of the U.S. and Canada.

Bumble bees face many threats including habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change. Unlike honeybees which inhabit large (>10,000 individuals) perennial hives, bumble bees produce smaller annual colonies of 50-1,500 individuals. Due to their smaller annual population sizes, life cycle, and genetic makeup, they are uniquely susceptible to extinction.

Bumblebees typically nest underground as well as overwinter in undisturbed ground – one that is not planted or mowed. Bumblebees may also nest in compost piles, woodpiles, stone walls, or empty bird houses.

According to the Xerces Society, here are some things that gardeners can do to help bumblebees:

  • Plant your garden to start blooming early and finish late. Provide bumblebees with pollen and nectar from late winter through early autumn.
  • Choose flowers of plant species native to your region that the bumblebees evolved alongside with. Plant species from around the world may be beneficial as well. Flowers should closely look like open pollinating species. Don’t plant varieties with double petals that make it hard for the bumblebee to access the pollen.
  • Purple, blue and yellow flowers attract bumblebees. Bees cannot see the color red.
  • Avoid using pesticides in your flower garden.
  • Learn and understand the natural habitat of bumblebees
  • Involve gardening friends and neighbors to create bee habitats.

For additional tips on conserving bumblebees, visit the Xerces Society website: http://www.xerces.org/bumblebees/

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