Look! There! No, there! It’s right under your nose!
Ok ... not really, but they may as well be. Named for the brownish-red stripe on their back, the rusty patched bumblebee is a fuzzy, charismatic and woefully endangered little bumblebee that can be found right in your backyard.
In days past, the rusty patched bumblebee’s range extended far to the northeast, into northern Maine and parts of Canada. However, due to a mixture of climate change and urban development, it mostly resides in the Midwest.
In Wisconsin, the rusty patched bumblebee has made its home in Dane County, which has documented more sightings of these bumbling buddies than anywhere else in the state. You can even find them right here in Madison at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, where they spend their days foraging in Curtis Prairie.
Maybe you’re not quite sold on this bee. After all, there are over 250 species of bumblebees in the world, twenty of which we can find all throughout Wisconsin. Why take the time and effort to ensure the survival of this one rare species?
However, protecting the rusty patched bumblebee means a lot more than just saving one insect.
In order to help our bumbling neighbors, we have to preserve where they live and work. By protecting the grasslands and prairies that these bees reside in, we are conserving countless species of native flowers, grasses and trees. And, when we save these habitats, we also help their bumblebee friends, the other twenty species that call Wisconsin home. This includes the frigid bumblebee, the brown-belted bumblebee and the tricolored bumblebee.
Protecting the rusty patched bumblebee doesn't just help plants and insects, however. Other species of concern, such as the pickerel frog, the prairie deer mouse and three species of bats thrive in these grassland habitats. By providing a home for the rusty-patched bumblebee, we would also be protecting these threatened species.
Most of us can’t convert our backyards into native prairies; most of us living in Madison don’t even have backyards. But there are still ways for us to preserve our endangered neighbors.
One of the simplest ways to do so is reporting when you see a rusty patched bumblebee! Reporting these bumblebees to Bumblebee Watch, using their website or their IOS app, helps researchers and conservationists know where they should be directing resources.
Another simple way to help out our endangered friends is planting native flowers and grasses! Even if you don’t have a lot of space, a small pot or planter of native flowers on your balcony, porch or windowsill gives the rusty patched bumblebee a spot to forage and rest if they are flying through the city.
The rusty patched bumblebees are our cute new neighbors, and helping them means helping our native environment and the species that call Wisconsin home. We can all do a little bit to make a big difference in the lives of the rusty patched bumblebee, from pointing them out when we see them, to planting the native flowers that they rely on. And at the end of the day, I just think they’re neat.