Join the Search for Iowa's Endangered Bumble Bee

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Join the Search for Iowa's Endangered Bumble Bee

Did you know that Iowa is home to the endangered rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis)?  Named after the rusty patch centrally located on the backs of workers and males, but not queens, the rusty patched bumble bee once occupied grasslands and tallgrass prairies in the Upper Midwest and Northeast. In Iowa they can be found mainly in the northeast corner, concentrated in Black Hawk, Clayton, Johnson, Allamakee, Jackson and Winneshiek counties. A record of rusty patched bumble bees has recently been confirmed in Boone County, so look for the bees in central Iowa too! The Iowa DNR is currently performing surveys to get a more complete understanding of the distribution of rusty patched bumble bees in Iowa. The Iowa DNR supports and promotes efforts to increase habitat for pollinators all across Iowa. 

Support the Iowa DNR by looking for rusty patched bumble bees in your backyard!

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee on a flower

The rusty patched bumble bee was designated as endangered by the federal government in 2017, after determining that the population had declined 87% in the last 20 years and is only present on 0.1% of its historic range. The rusty patched bumble bee is facing a number of threats including, habitat loss, intensive farming, disease, pesticides and climate change. 

Rusty patched and other species of bumble bees are important to protect as they provide essential ecological services for their respective ecosystems, especially for native flora, which includes wildflowers and the plants that produce the fruits and seeds that other wildlife depend on. They are also critical for the pollination of some of our favorite crops including blueberries, cranberries, and tomatoes. In fact, bumble bees are more effective pollinators than honey bees because of their ability to “buzz pollinate,” where the bees contract their indirect flight muscles to produce strong vibrations that forcibly expel the pollen from inside the flower. 

What You Can Do!

Bumble bees need only three things to survive: 

1. Flowers in bloom from early spring through fall 

2. A safe place to build their nest over winter

3. A pesticide and disease free environment. 


rusty patched bumble bee on a flower

Plant a pollinator garden! Use native bee friendly plants that flower in various times of the year so the bees always have a food source. Wildflowers that are particularly good for rusty patched bumble bees include purple prairie clover, wild bergamot or bee balm, wild indigo, joe-pye-weed and goldenrod. For a more complete list read the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Midwest Plant Guide. Avoid invasive and non-native plants and remove any invasive plants you find in your yard. Rusty patched bumble bees in particular like to nest in the ground so providing nesting habitat is also important. Examples of nesting habitat would be unmowed or brushy areas and natural areas where there is undisturbed soil. Remember pesticides can be lethal to bees so limit their use and avoid them entirely when you can. 

Example of an excellent yard for pollinators found in Iowa

This northeast Iowa yard is an excellent example of an ideal place for pollinators. It even has rusty patched bumble bees!

Have you seen a bee? Do you want to know its species? Take a picture and visit!

If you've found a Rusty Patched Bumble Bee please contact the Iowa DNR at 515-725-8464 or