rusty patched

Submitted photo

A rusty patched bumble bee was found in Pine Bend Bluffs Natural area by a staff member with the Friends of the Mississippi River.

Endangered pollinator’s return shows restoration project working

A rare, endangered bee species has apparently made the Pine Bend Bluffs Natural Area near Rosemount its home.

The discovery of a rusty patched bumble bee was made by Chris Smith from Wildlife Research & Consulting Services in both 2019 and again last week.

The single bee represents approximately 0.2 percent of the known population of this species in the world.

Friends of the Mississippi River, a nonprofit that partners with Flint Hills to restore the Pine Bend Bluffs, have been restoring the area to its natural state since 2000.

Apparently it’s working.

During the past decade, 113 different species have been spotted at the Pine Bend Bluffs.

“We started doing pollinator surveys last year,” said Karen Schik of Friends of the Mississippi River. “Native pollinators have been declining a lot, which is a big concern around the country and the world. It’s a great indicator that it’s successful in some way in helping the wildlife. Pollinators are so important.”

According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, the rusty patched bumble bee is a pollinator of key food crops, such as cranberries, plums, apples, onions, and alfalfa. It’s decline could have far-reaching effects on ecosystems, economic stability, and cultural traditions.

“It used to be one of the most common species in the east and upper Midwest and now it’s one of the most rare,” Schik said. “There’s lots of reasons why from habitat loss, an increase in use of certain pesticides, and an increase to disease. Some of it is potentially related to climate change, but habitat loss is one of those things were are able to have some effect on.”

The Friends of the Mississippi River have restored oak savannas and prairie land through prescribed burns and by eliminating invasive species.

A rusty patched bumble bee has a brown, rusty color on its abdomen, Schik said.

Minnesota has become a hotspot.

About 12 rusty patched bumble bees were discovered at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley in 2018 around the eastern parking lots and since been found in other areas of the zoo.

“It’s still not a lot, but people are more likely to find them in urban areas,” Schik said. “People are finding them in their backyards. I think there’s a growing interest in the whole pollinator issue. Homeowners in the city can make a difference. It doesn’t take many flowers to support these critters.”

What can people do to encourage the rusty patched bubble bee?

“They need that standing dead vegetation,” Schik said. “This is a time when people like to clean up their gardens in fall and keep them tidy, but that doesn’t help them. If you’re cutting flowering stocks, leave three feet or so.”

The best way to explore the Pine Bend Bluff, which is the natural area west of the Mississippi River and east of Highway 52 in Rosemount and Inver Grove Heights, is the Pine Bend Bluff Trailhead along the Mississippi River Trail.

But let the bees be. The rusty patched bee is federally protected.

Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area consists of Macalester College’s Katherine Ordway Natural History Study Area at the north end, the Department of Natural Resources Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area in the middle, and Flint Hills Resources at the south end.

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