First Bumblebee on Endangered List

By Carolyn Belardo

The rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis), once common in the Philadelphia area and throughout the eastern and Midwestern U.S., this week was placed on the federal endangered species list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the bee once, “so ordinary as it moved from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen,” is now balancing on the brink of extinction with small scattered populations in just 13 states and one province in Canada.

Academy Entomology Curator Jon Gelhaus, PhD, said scientists aren’t exactly clear what caused such a drastic decline in the species, but a fungus disease possibly carried by “farmed” bumblebees into the wild populations and exposure to newer, long-lasting pesticides used in farming are likely to blame.

Type specimen of the rusty patched bumble bee. The scale bar at the bottom is in millimeters. Photo by J.D. Weintraub / ANSP Entomology
Type specimen of the rusty-patched bumblebee in the Academy’s collection. The scale bar at the bottom is in millimeters. Photo by J.D. Weintraub / ANSP Entomology

The insect is the first bumblebee species to receive protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The Academy’s Entomology Collection contains the type specimen of the rusty-patched bumblebee. A type specimen is the original specimen used as the basis of the first scientific description of a species.

Collection Manager Jason Weintraub says the specimen was collected in Ontario, Canada in the mid-19th century. It was  formally named by Academy entomologist Ezra Cresson in 1864.

You can read more about the bumblebee on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website.

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