Thanks to WLOS News 13 for Bringing Attention to Rusty Patched Bumble Bee and Other Native Bees

Photo of the rusty patched bumble bee by Johanna James-Heinz

Last night, Asheville’s WLOS News 13 aired a special story about what the recent listing of the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered actually means. According to US Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist Bryan Tompkins, the rusty patched bumble bee used to be fairly common in the Southern Appalachians but has not been seen since around 2001.

Both bumble and honey bees are social bees that live as colonies. Unlike honey bees, which nest in above ground cavities, bumble bees generally nest in the ground.

Today, “Current” records cover only about 0.1% of of the rusty patched bumble bee’s historical range with the core of those “Current” records being in the upper midwest. This link provides additional information regarding the Current and Historic records for this endangered bee. Tompkins is southeast region lead for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s work on the rusty patched bumble bee, especially work to determine if any populations remain in the southeast. This summer, he will be recruiting citizen scientists to help in that search which will contribute the the species’ Recovery Plan.  

Pollinator advocates like Bee City USA and the Xerces Society hope the first listing of a bee species in the continental United States will bring attention to all native bees, but especially bumble bees.  There are about 250 species of bumble bees in the world, 47 of which are native to North America.  According to the Xerces Society, a leader in bumble bee conservation, more than one quarter (28%) of all North American bumble bees are facing some degree of extinction risk. They are threatened by “habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change. Unlike honeybees which have large (>10,000 individuals) perennial hives, bumble bees produce smaller annual colonies (50-1,500 individuals). Due to their smaller annual population sizes, life cycle, and genetic makeup, they are uniquely susceptible to extinction.”

WLOS News 13 reporter Tanja Rekhi and cameraman Jordan Powell spent the day interviewing Asheville GreenWorks environmental educator Christine Brown at Glen Arden Elementary School where they had recently planted a pollinator garden with Eco-Readers Club students; at a private residence with Annie and Jeff Menzer, owners of Natural Gardeners landscaping company; at Pat Sommers’s Natural Selections nursery; and at UNC Asheville’s bee hotel with environmental specialist Jackie Hamstead. UNC Asheville is a certified Bee Campus USA affiliate and Asheville became the first Bee City USA affiliate in 2012.

To learn more about the rusty patched bumble bee, watch the 19-minute documentary A Ghost in the Making produced by Neil Losin, Nate Dappen and Clay Bolt.

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