Wednesday, October 05, 2016

UW-Madison News Release--Refuge for vanishing bumblebee



CONTACT: Susan Carpenter via Susan Day, (608) 265-3355,



MADISON - A proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to seek endangered status for the rusty-patched bumblebee has focused renewed attention on bumblebees living at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. This 1,200-acre natural area in Madison still has wild populations of the rare insect, which was fairly common until about 20 years ago.

The proposal cited habitat loss, insecticide use and climate change as the primary causes of the bee's decline.

By 2010, when the rusty-patched bumblebee was first identified at the Arboretum, it had already disappeared from at least 90 percent of its original range, says Susan Carpenter, the Arboretum's native plant gardener and bumblebee expert. Although she had seen rusty-patched bumblebees early in September, a search for them later in the month was unsuccessful.

The reason was their seasonal cycle: This year's colonies are no longer living and the queens for next season are already overwintering underground.

Unlike the better-known honeybees, bumblebees live in small colonies and store little nectar, so they must nest within flying distance of flowers. The Arboretum's insecticide-free prairies, woodlands and gardens - with varied, abundant flowers that bloom from spring until fall - are a paradise for the rusty-patched and at least a dozen other bumblebee species.

Bumblebees nest in hollow logs, root cavities or underground. After they emerge from nests, generally in April, they immediately need to find nectar from flowering trees and woodland wildflowers. The procession of flowers concludes in October with the goldenrods and asters.

After discovering the rusty-patched bumblebee in 2010, the Arboretum initiated a pollinator monitoring project, now affiliated with the Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Network.

Arboretum data were used in the Xerces Society's 2013 petition for endangered status, and in the recent Fish and Wildlife Service species status assessment. The society promotes the study and conservation of invertebrate species and their habitats.


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-David Tenenbaum, (608) 265-8549,

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