Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Hopeful Sign?

The Rusty-patched Bumblebee (RPB) seems to have been a casualty. The Xerces Society, a not-for-profit organization that specializes in the protection of invertebrate animals and their habitat, has identified the Rusty-patched as one of four North American bumblebees that have experienced serious decline in the last 50 years. This RPB is one of the prime examples of why bumblebees need our help.

Right: Color pattern diagrams for workers of the Rusty-patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis)

The RPB was formerly widely distributed in eastern and central North America. It is represented by specimens in historical insect collections from southern Ontario and Quebec in Canada, and all the way from Minnesota across to Maine in the northern U. S. It also occurred in a wide swath down the eastern part of the continent, as far south as Georgia. Today it has disappeared almost entirely from that entire broad range.

A recent study by bee researchers, Sheila Colla and Laurence Packer has provided quantitative evidence for the decline of the RPB. They collected intensively in two locations where RPB was formerly found over a period of three years. They were completely unable to locate the species in its former haunts. Broader collecting throughout most of the former range turned up only one remaining stand of the species in southern Ontario.

Fortunately, last year, the missing species was also sighted by biologist Liz Day in Indiana. This has to be a hopeful sign.

You can help. The Xerces Society would like everyone to be on the watch for the Rusty-patched Bumblebee. If you want to learn how to spot, they have information and even an identification guide on their site. You can see more photos of the species HERE, HERE and HERE.

There may still be hope for the Rusty-patched Bumblebee. Let's try and give all bumblebees a better chance by protecting their habitat and planting more bee-friendly flowers.

Maybe one day we'll see the RPB flashing its brown patch among the blossoms in our gardens once again.

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