This page contains rusty patched bumble bee facts for kids and students. This animal is part of our Endangered Animals series.
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Facts At A Glance
- Scientific name: Bombus affinis
- Type of Animal: Insect
- Animal Family: Apidae
- Where Found: North America: Northeastern USA & Southeastern Canada
- Length: queens: up to 22 mm (0.87 in.); workers: up to 16 mm (0.63 in.)
- Conservation Status: Critically Endangered (IUCN); Endangered (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service); Endangered (Canada Species At Risk Act)
- Other interesting Rusty Patched Bumble Bee facts: The first bee to be listed as an endangered species in continental USA.
- How to recognize a rusty patched bumble bee
- Rusty patched bumble bee range & habitat
- Rusty patched bumble bee life cycle
- Why is the rusty patched bumble bee endangered?
- How to help the rusty patched bumble bee
- Answers to worksheet questions
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Video
Watch the (short and very shaky) video below to see a rusty patched bumble bee foraging:
Meet The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee: Introduction
The rusty patched bumble bee is a species of bumble bee endemic to North America. (‘Endemic’ means ‘only found in’.)
As recently as the 1980’s it was a common species in the northeast and upper midwest regions of the USA and in southeast Canada. Since then, however, the rusty patched bumble bee’s population has experienced a severe decline.
In 2010 the species was listed as Endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. In 2015 the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) gave the rusty patched bumble bee a Critically Endangered rating.
On January 11, 2017, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service published a ruling that the rusty patched bumble bee was to be listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The ruling came into effect on March 21 2017.
The rusty patched bumble bee is the first bumble bee – and the first bee of any type native to mainland United States – to be listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. (Seven species of yellow-faced bees (not bumblebees), native to the Hawaiian Islands, were listed in 2016.)
Because the rusty patched bumble bee’s population decline has been so sudden and so severe, there are fears that the insect will soon become extinct.
We’ll find out about what is being done to protect the rusty patched bumble bee further down the page.
How To Recognize A Rusty Patched Bumble Bee
The rusty patched bumble bee is a relatively large, black and yellow bumble bee. Queens are 20–22 mm (0.79–0.87 in.) in length. Workers are smaller, reaching 13–17.5 mm (0.52–0.69 in.) in length. Male drones are slightly bigger than the female workers.
Rusty patched bumble bees live in colonies made up of a single queen bee and between 50 and several hundred female worker bees. Males called drones are produced towards the end of the colony’s life cycle. We’ll find out more about bumble bee colonies further down the page!
The rusty patched bumble bee has black hair on its head, legs and undersides. The hair on the top of its body is yellow, apart from a section of black at the rear of the abdomen, and a dark patch between the wings. (You can find out what an ‘abdomen’ is in the diagram below.)
Rusty patched bumble bee workers have a patch of rusty-colored hair on the middle of their abdomen. This is what gives the species its name.
Queens don’t have the rusty patch.
Insect Body Parts
An insect’s body is divided into three main parts: the head, the thorax (to which the wings and legs are attached), and the abdomen (the large part at the rear of an insect).
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Range (Where Do They Live?)
The rusty patched bumble bee used to be found throughout much of northeastern USA. Its range covered 28 states, stretching from Georgia to Maine and west to the edges of North and South Dakota.
The species was also commonly found in southern parts of Quebec and Ontario in Canada.
Since 2000, the rusty patched bumble bee has only been sighted in 13 states in the USA and in Ontario, Canada (although the once-common species hasn’t been seen at all in Ontario since 2009).
The states in which the species has been observed since 2000 are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The IUCN has calculated the following figures:
- The rusty patched bumble bee is now found in only 54.68% of its former range.
- The rusty patched bumble bee population has declined by 69.36% over the last 10 years.
(See the IUCN report for more information.)
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Habitat
The rusty patched bumble bee is found in grasslands, prairies and marshes, and will also forage (find food) in sand dunes, farmland, marshes and wooded areas. Today it is also seen in parks and gardens. The species is often found near or within woodlands.
The rusty patched bumble bee is able to withstand colder temperatures than other bumble bees. It is found at elevations ranging from sea level to 1,600 m.
The rusty patched bumble bee requires different habitats for foraging, nesting and overwintering, making it vulnerable if the right balance of habitats becomes unavailable.
Rusty Patched Bumblebee Foraging Habitat
The rusty patched bumble bee needs a source of blooming flowers located close to the nest. Flowers need to be present for the duration of the colony’s life, which is longer than that of many other bumblebee species.
Studies have shown that the amount of pollen available to a bumble bee colony is proportional to the number of queens it will produce. Colonies with an inadequate supply of pollen will be unable to produce as many queens.
As we’ll see when we look at the bee’s life cycle, if a colony produces fewer queens, then there is less chance of new colonies being established.
Rusty Patched Bumblebee Nesting Colony Habitat
The rusty patched bumble bee builds underground nests in wetlands, fields and grasslands. It often uses disused rodent burrows. A typical nest will be around 16-18 in. (40–46 cm) below the surface, and made of soft soil.
Occasionally nests are built above ground. They may be situated in locations such as holes in dead trees, under piles of rocks, or in ditches.
Rusty Patched Bumblebee Overwintering Habitat
In winter the queens seek shelter either by burrowing underground in soft, undisturbed soil or by finding cavities in rotting logs.
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Facts: Diet
The rusty patched bumble bee feeds on pollen (for protein) and nectar (for carbohydrates), both of which are provided by flowering plants. The bumblebee has a short tongue, and feeds on flowers with short corollas.
(Corolla = the part of a flower formed by the petals.)
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Facts: Life Cycle
The life cycle of a rusty patched bumble bee colony starts in spring, when a queen emerges from her overwintering hole and starts to search for a suitable place to build a nest.
Rusty patched bumble bee queens begin to emerge from April onwards.
Once a nesting site has been chosen, the queen will lay eggs into chambers built from wax secreted from glands in her abdomen. The queen continues to forage and take care of the larvae until they emerge as workers. This can take up to 5 weeks.
The workers are all female, but the queen emits pheromones (special chemicals transmitted in the air) to prevent them from laying eggs of their own.
When the workers are able to take over the foraging, the queen concentrates on producing more eggs. The new larvae are cared for and fed by the workers.
In the wild the largest colonies may contain around 400 individuals. In captivity, colonies containing up to 2100 individuals have been known.
At a point somewhere between mid-July and September, the queen will start to produce males (known as drones) and new queens. These will leave the nest to mate.
Having mated, a new queen will search for a suitable location to overwinter. Here she will enter a state of dormancy known as diapause, during which physical activity and development are stopped.
She will re-emerge in the spring to start her own colony.
The old queen, workers and drones will not survive the onset of winter.
Why Is The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Endangered?
There are several theories explaining the sudden and catastrophic drop in the rusty patched bumble bee population. These include habitat loss, the use of pesticides, the spread of disease, and climate change.
Much of the rusty patched bumble bee’s traditional grassland and prairie habitat has either been lost or fragmented due to farming and urban development. Intensive farming methods cause the loss of vital habitats such as hedgerows and fewer wildflowers.
Pesticides used in farms and urban areas can kill bumblebees. Pesticides have also been found to: reduce colony growth, reduce queen and drone production, and reduce the bees’ ability to forage and store food.
Neonicotinoids are a particular type of pesticide used in corn and soy production. They were introduced in the 1990’s, shortly before the decline in the numbers of Rusty Patched Bumble Bees was noticed. Some studies suggest that Neonicotinoids may have directly caused the decline.
Spread Of Disease
Bumble bees are commercially reared and used to pollinate crops. Nosema bombi, a fungal parasite, has spread from commercially-reared bumblebees to wild bumblebees. The exact effect this has had on wild bumblebee populations is unclear, but studies have shown that it can reduce colony size and the production of males and new queens.
Climate change can affect bumble bees in many ways, including: periods of drought, increased precipitation (rain and snow), flowers blooming at the wrong time, and fewer flowers in general.
What Is Being Done To Help The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee?
Now that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given the rusty patched bumble bee endangered status, conservationists will have more power to protect the areas in which the bumblebee is found.
Specific habitats will be given critical habitat designation, which will help to prevent development in those areas. Species recovery plans will be drawn up with the aim of increasing the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee population.
You can see recovery plans for other species here: Species Recovery Plans
A number of societies such as the Pollinator Partnership exist to protect pollinators such as the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee. (A pollinator is any animal that enables plants to reproduce by moving pollen from plant to plant).
How Can I Help The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee?
If you live in an area where the rusty patched bumble bee – or any other type of bumblebee – is found, then you can help in a number of ways:
- Grow some plants in your backyard. Flowers, trees and shrubs all provide pollen for your local bees. A recent study in the journal Nature found that the chances of bumblebee colonies forming new colonies are significantly increased if they are within 250–1,000 m of flowers.
- Remember that rusty patched bumblebees like undisturbed soil, and areas with natural features such as rodent burrows and clumps of long grass. If you have some land, leave some areas untended! Tell other landowners, and get involved with any local schemes to create wildlife habitats.
- Don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers in your garden.
- Tell other people about the rusty patched bumble bee!
- Participate in Bumble Bee Watch, a citizen science project to monitor and conserve bumblebees in the USA.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service has produced a free downloadable pdf guide on how to attract pollinators to your garden.
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Facts: Conclusion
We hope that you have enjoyed learning about the rusty patched bumble bee, and that you are now planning lots of ways in which you can help it to make a comeback!
Remember that just by telling other people about endangered animals can help raise awareness and change peoples’ habits!
You can find out about more of the world’s endangered species here: Endangered Species List
Note: We encourage school children and teachers to visit this page to learn about the rusty patched bumble bee. If your school has a website, please consider linking to this page.
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Answers To Worksheet Questions
Worksheet answers can be found here.