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Will the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee become our 'State Bee'?

A rusty patched bumble bee on a wildflower. Image by Heather Holm.

Twenty years ago, there wasn't a question. The rusty patched bumble bee was thriving, going about its business, moving from flower to flower collecting pollen and nectar, without much notice. It was found broadly across the eastern United States and the Upper Midwest in 28 states as well as southern Quebec and Ontario in Canada. 

Today, the rusty patched bumble bee's numbers have declined dramatically--87 percent over 20 years, putting it on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's "endangered" list in 2017. 

But Minnesota is a champion in the fight to recover this tiny pollinator! To draw attention to its plight, UMN Extension Bee Researcher Elaine Evans wrote this letter to members of the Minnesota State Legislature to make it the official "State Bee." The act will undoubtedly raise public awareness, which is considered a key step to its recovery: 

'Dear Minnesota lawmakers...'

I am writing in support of HF 2070, a bill to establish the rusty patched bumble bee as the Minnesota state bee. The rusty patched bumble bee represents the beauty and resilience of Minnesota. Its designation as the state bee would demonstrate Minnesota’s commitment to preserving our natural resources and protecting our pollinators.

I am an Extension Educator and Researcher at the University of Minnesota Bee Lab focused on bee conservation. When I first started working with bumble bees, the rusty patched bumble bee was everywhere I looked for bees. Suddenly in the year 2000, they disappeared. This event led to my focus on bringing these beautiful and important pollinators back in Minnesota.

Minnesota stands out as a champion of the rusty patched bumble bee and our action are crucial to its recovery. The rusty patched bumble bee was federally listed as an endangered species in 2017. In 2018, a total of 471 rusty patched bumble bees were seen anywhere in the world. 165 of these were in MN.  This represents 35% of all rusty patched bumble bee individuals. I founded the Minnesota Bumble Bee survey in 2007 to see if the rusty patched bumble bee could still be found in Minnesota. In the last 10 years, MN volunteers have found rusty patched bumble bees in 12 different counties, as far north as Clearwater and Itasca County, as far south as Houston and Jackson Counties.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has identified public awareness as a key step in the recovery of this species. Designation of the rusty patched bumble bee as Minnesota state bee would go a long way in raising awareness and increasing opportunities to protect the remaining populations of this important pollinator.

Thank you for your attention to this vital issue.

Elaine Evans, PhD.
Assistant Extension Professor, University of Minnesota

Where's the legislation now?

As of early April, the proposed legislation made it into the State House Omnibus bill. The bill was introduced by Representative Rick Hansen, and a companion bill SF 2142 was introduced by Senator Matt Klein. 

In the meantime, Dr. Evans continues her work on monitoring the rusty patched bumble bee population, educating Minnesotans about this endangered pollinator, studying habitat and coordinating citizen surveys through the Minnesota Bumble Bee Survey. 

If you'd like to help monitor the population of the rusty patched bumble bee and other bumble bees in Minnesota, go to this web page for more information: https://blog-yard-garden-news.extension.umn.edu/2018/08/video-bee-friendly-join-mn-bumble-bee.html

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