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1Frame4Nature | Clay Bolt

What YOU Can Do: 

  • Watch A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee by Clay Bolt and get inspired to help protect bumble bees and other native pollinators in your own community!
  • What can you do in your backyard to make a difference? Plant native wildflowers in your backyard, avoid spraying pesticides, and leave some untended areas for bees to nest in. In a short period of time, you’ll be amazed by the number of interesting bees that will turn up in your garden.

–1Frame4Nature is a collection of images and stories from around the globe of your personal connection to nature. However small, when combined with the actions of others, your individual actions can impact real and tangible outcomes for the preservation of our planet. Submit your story now!

A seemingly healthy rusty-patched bumble bee worker at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum.
A seemingly healthy rusty-patched bumble bee worker at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum.

iLCP Fellow Clay Bolts‘s 1Frame4Nature: Bumble Bee Lessons, Leaps of Faith

Throughout my life, I’ve occasionally felt a déjà vu kind of love for certain people, places, and things that I’ve never actually encountered before. Let’s call them les déjà aimés or the already loved.

A Rusty-patched bumble bee worker feeds in Madison, Wisconsin, which is one of the insect's only remaining strongholds.
A Rusty-patched bumble bee worker feeds in Madison, Wisconsin, which is one of the insect’s only remaining strongholds.

There have been quite a few of these special first-encounters throughout my life: the first eastern box turtle that ever crossed my path; the tadpole filled pond in the woods behind my grandfather’s house; and the blue swell of the Southern Blue Ridge. When I laid my eyes upon a rusty-patched bumble bee for the first time, that old familiar feeling presented itself once again, immediately filling me with a deep surge of compassion for this little bee with an oxidized, orange kiss of color.

A preserved specimen of a female Rusty Patched Bumble Bee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park's invertebrate collection. This species has declined nearly 90% in the past 15 years.
A preserved specimen of a female Rusty Patched Bumble Bee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s invertebrate collection. This species has declined nearly 90% in the past 15 years.

My first real sighting of this once common bee wasn’t in the wild, but as a specimen in the zoological collection at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 20 years ago, its kind buzzed across rich wildflower meadows and backyards throughout much of eastern North America. But, in the early 2000s, its range began to recede to a mere 10% of where it once was found. Chances are I might have even seen it when I was a kid, but my own children hadn’t been afforded that opportunity.

I decided in that moment that I would do everything in my power to help the rusty-patched bumble bee have a fighting chance for survival.

Common eastern bumble bee outside of greenhouse tomato operation in Madison, Wisconsin. Commercially raised bumble bees that have escaped from greenhouse vents are thought to have spread a European pathogen that has caused serious declines in some North American bumble bee species including the rusty-patched bumble bee.
Common eastern bumble bee outside of greenhouse tomato operation in Madison, Wisconsin. Commercially raised bumble bees that have escaped from greenhouse vents are thought to have spread a European pathogen that has caused serious declines in some North American bumble bee species including the rusty-patched bumble bee.

As a conservation photographer, I’m well aware of the powerful role that photos can play in bringing more awareness to the plight of a species, but protecting an insect has unique challenges. When my mission began, not a single species of native North American bee, out of nearly 4,000, was protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In fact, at that time only 76 species out of 700 on the Endangered Species List happened to be insects. Undoubtedly, it would be an uphill battle.

T'ai Roulston, an entomologist at University of Virginia at Blandy Research station, discovered a single Rusty-patched bumble bee in a trap at Sky Meadows State Park, VA in 2014. After three more years of searching, no additional rusty-patched bumble bees have been found.
T’ai Roulston, an entomologist at University of Virginia at Blandy Research station, discovered a single Rusty-patched bumble bee in a trap at Sky Meadows State Park, VA in 2014. After three more years of searching, no additional rusty-patched bumble bees have been found.

My first step was to work with partners at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and friends at Day’s Edge Productions to produce a film on the plight of the rusty-patched bumble bee. We then screened the film around the country, including an amazing moment where I spoke during a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill. In tandem, we also created a petition that gathered nearly 130,000 signatures in support of protecting the bee, which were delivered to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

In March of 2017, nearly two years after the process began, our efforts paid off and the USFWS officially listed the rusty-patched bumble bee as an endangered species.

Photographer and filmmaker Clay Bolt speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on behalf of the rusty-patched bumble bee. Photo © Alex Garcia / iLCP
Photographer and filmmaker Clay Bolt speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on behalf of the rusty-patched bumble bee. Photo © Alex Garcia / iLCP

Reading back over my proceeding words, this brief description makes the process seems so simple. Yet, they do little to truly express the Herculean effort put forth by so many people to protect such a small, but irreplaceable creature.

Bumble Bee expert Rich Hatfield, from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, takes a close look at a resting male rusty-patched bumble bee in Madison, Wisconsin.
Bumble Bee expert Rich Hatfield, from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, takes a close look at a resting male rusty-patched bumble bee in Madison, Wisconsin.

Initially, I knew absolutely nothing about the rusty-patched bumble bee other than the knowledge that it was in trouble. But I went to work, learning along the way, consulting with experts, and using my voice to speak up for a creature that wasn’t able to speak for itself.

In conservation, as in life in general, you’re never going to be fully prepared for life’s unpredictable moments. You simply have to close your eyes, leap as far as you can in the direction of your dreams, and hope that you reach them on the buzz of little bee wings.

A dew-covered, highly-endangered male Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, waits to warm up in the early morning light. Madison, Wisconsin
A dew-covered, highly-endangered male Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, waits to warm up in the early morning light. Madison, Wisconsin

Watch our film on the rusty-patched bumble bee at www.rustypatched.com.

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