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Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Sightings Increase in Lake County

September 21, 2022 03:00 PM

An uptick in sightings of the federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee is creating a buzz in Lake County.

Nine rusty patched bumble bees were found at six of 13 Lake County forest preserves recently surveyed.

The rusty patched bumble bee has declined by 87% in the past 20 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The bee was placed on the federally endangered species list in 2017. It's one of 10 bumble bee species in Illinois and the first pollinator protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, intensive farming and possibly disease are factors for the decrease in numbers.

“We’re ecstatic to see these elusive bumble bees in the forest preserves,” said Pati Vitt, director of natural resources. “Increased monitoring and awareness, including a new program that trained volunteers in the field, are factors in spotting additional bees,” Vitt said.

This is the first summer volunteers were added to the bee monitoring program run by Alma Schrage, a bee biologist who contracts with the Forest Preserves.

Why are bumble bees important? “They are a ‘keystone species’ in functioning ecosystems,” Vitt said. “Their work is necessary for wildflowers to reproduce and to create seeds and fruits that feed wildlife and humans.”

Healthy woodlands, grasslands and tallgrass prairies are essential to the rusty patched bumble bee's survival. “The work we do across the Forest Preserves to restore and maintain healthy, diverse landscapes helps bee species thrive,” Vitt said.

"Finding these bees tells me that our efforts are working,” Vitt said. Pine Dunes in Antioch is prime example of a successful restoration project where a rusty patched bumble bee was recently spotted. “The preserve was largely agricultural, so the likelihood of rusty patched bees living there was quite low before restoration efforts took place,” she said. 

“Restoring land provides a place for native plants and wildlife,” Vitt said. “It also increases biodiversity and makes our landscapes sustainable for future generations.”

Photo © Alma Schrage