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Rusty patched bumble bee becomes a household name

Rusty patch bumblebee on wildflower
A rusty patched bumble bee. Photo: Heather Holm

It’s been two years since the rusty patched bumble bee became the state bee of Minnesota, a designation due in no small part to Elaine Evans, University of Minnesota Extension educator and Bee Lab researcher.

Because the rusty patched bumble bee is so uncommon, researchers haven’t been able to observe nesting behaviors for over 25 years. That data is vital for conservation efforts. Her outreach paid off last summer when Evans heard from several people familiar with her work.

When Nancy Kafka found bees in her basement, she recalled learning about the Bee Lab’s research through her work with the Belwin Nature Center. “As I looked at the bees, their markings were interesting and the stripe pattern made me curious: could these be the rusty patch?” says Kafka. She took photos and contacted Evans, who confirmed the identification.

“Nancy was very supportive, letting us station ourselves by her front steps to make observations at the entrance, and get into her basement to access to the nest,” says Evans.

Elaine Evans with bee on her finger
Elaine Evans, Extension educator and Bee Lab researcher

Evans and her team documented nesting and mating behavior and pest interactions. They collected specimens and samples so they and collaborators can sequence the bee’s genome, examine pathogens and determine their pollen sources. Information will help researchers form recovery plans to prevent extinction of the rusty patched bumble bee.

You can help by watching for bumble bees disappearing into the ground or holes in your house.
Perhaps you’ll be hosting the next backyard bee survey!

In the video below, meet Michelle Boone, a graduate research fellow in entomology who recently worked alongside Elaine Evans in the Cariveau Native Bee Lab at the University of Minnesota and on in-home observations of rusty patched bumble bee nests. 

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