Rare, endangered bumblebee species found in Story County


An endangered rusty patched bumble bee was recently sighted at Brookside Park in Ames, Iowa. 

Kelly Snawerdt

An endangered species of bees called the rusty patched bumblebee has been spotted in Ames by Prairie Rivers of Iowa Watersheds and Wildlife Coordinator David Stein, according to a press release issued by Prairie Rivers of Iowa.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, the rusty patched bumblebee species has been declining due to factors like habitat loss and degradation, intensive farming, disease, pesticides and global climate change. 

It was quite an excitement for Stein to find this species in Story County because according to the release, there have not been any verified sighting records in a few years. The Ames and Boone population of this rare bumblebee species is smaller and more isolated than the ones found in eastern Iowa. Stein pointed out that they are on the edge of their natural range, which makes rescue and conservation efforts in central Iowa all the more crucial. 

In January 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the rusty patched bumblebee species as the first species of bees in the continental United States on the endangered species list. The species has declined by approximately 87 percent during the last 20 years. 

The species currently inhabits only 0.1 percent of its original range, and Stein said in the release that the main drivers of decline are habitat loss, pesticide use and pathogens. Pesticides are used widely on farms and even in cities, and they have both lethal and sublethal toxic effects. Bumblebees can absorb the toxins directly through their exoskeleton and through contaminated nectar and pollen.

Prairie Rivers of Iowa is working with landowners, local government and other local organizations to restore the habitats of many pollinator and wildlife species in Iowa.

The release said Prairie Rivers has pollinator garden planning services that are available to landowners throughout the year, and they seasonally operate a free native seed bank. Another related effort to encourage Ames citizens to plant native vegetation and restore habitat is the city’s cost share rebate available through their Smart Watersheds program.

On Aug. 20, Prairie Rivers of Iowa is hosting an event called Butterflies, Bees and Brews – Oh My! at Alluvial Brewing in Ames in celebration of the organization’s 21st birthday. The event is also meant to raise funds to assist in the habitat restoration efforts for the rusty patched bumblebee. To learn more details about the celebration and to purchase tickets, visit prrcd.org.