Endangered rusty patched bumble bee discovered at Milwaukee County Zoo

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A critically endangered rusty patched bumble bee was discovered at the Milwaukee County Zoo. 

According to a news release, the bee was spotted and documented during an annual backyard bumble bee count. 

"This is a very exciting moment for all of us. Knowing that this species of bumble bee is at risk of extinction, it feels incredible to get this moment of hope,” says Auriana Donaldson, conservation programs coordinator for the Zoological Society of Milwaukee.

Why is this important? Bees are critical to our survival. They pollinate the food we need to live and pollinate many of the trees and flowers that proved habitats for other wildlife. The rusty patched bumble bee is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Once found across the Northeastern United States, this species has declined by 87% in the past 20 years. They are critically important pollinators
responsible for pollinating some of our favorite crops, including cranberries, blueberries, apples and plums. More information on the rusty patched bumble bee can be found here.

How was it spotted at the Zoo? The Zoological Society encourages people to take part in the annual Backyard Bumble Bee Count, which ended on Aug. 1. Anyone can do it, and you don’t need to be an expert. The idea is to watch for any species of bumble bee, take a photo and submit it to iNaturalist. This year, some of the Society volunteers were led by UW-Madison graduate student Emily Sneed in bumble bee
surveys on Zoo grounds when the rusty patched bumble bee landed on a flower. The photo was sent to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) field biologists for confirmation. Finding this species and documenting this observation will help track their population and inform conservation efforts for the species.

What’s next? The Zoological Society will continue to encourage people to plant native, pollinator-friendly plants and participate in No Mow May. This initiative asks homeowners to delay mowing their lawn until after the month of May. Queen bumble bees hibernate in our yards in the winter, and if we clear our yards too early we may be eliminating these important pollinators. Plus, by delaying yard cleanup bees have access to critically needed food resources like clover, dandelions and naturally occurring spring flowers.

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