Endangered Species In Focus: The Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee

This Week’s Endangered Species In Focus: Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus afinis)



The Rusty-patched bumble bee is a medium to large bee, ranging from about one to two centimetres long with queens being at the higher end of this range. Like most bumble bees, it is yellow and black, but males and workers have a distinctive rusty-coloured patch on their abdomen.

Important Dates:

Sept. 28, 2010: listed as endangered

Jan. 1, 2014: granted habitat protection


  • Once widespread and common in eastern North America, found from southern Ontario south to Georgia and west to the Dakotas;
  • Suffering rapid decline since 1970’s, only a handful have been collected in Ontario in recent years. The only sightings of this bee in Canada since 2002 have been at the Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron.


  • Like other bumble bees, they can be found in open habitat such as mixed farmland, urban setting, savannah, open woods and sand dunes;
  • Found in variety of flowering plants in bloom from April to October, with the peak population in July – September;
  • During winter hibernation the bumble bee will be found in underground rodent burrows or fallen deadwood;


  • Suspected causes include pesticide use and the spread of disease from bumble bees used to pollinate greenhouse vegetable crops;

What You Can Do to Help:

  • Pollinators, such as bees, are in steep decline across the globe and they play a key role in the survival of many of Ontario’s rare plants. For more information on how you can help scientists track pollinator pollinations visit: www.seeds.ca/proj/poll
  • To provide nectar and pollen for bumble bees, plant a variety of native flowering plants in your garden. Bees tend to prefer pink, purple and yellow flowers;
  • Visit the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee Project on Facebook here ;
  • Attend our free community event titled “Decline of the Honey Bee” scheduled for June 10, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. at the UNIFOR Hall on Victoria Street (further details here)

Fun Facts:

  • Only 3 specimens of the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee have been found in Southern Ontario over the last 6 years;
  • This type of bumble bee gets it nectar from “nectar-robbing” (biting a hole in the outside of flowers and sucking the nectar up through its tongue), this technique leaves marks in the flower allowing experts to detect their presence;
  • Bumble bees perform “buzz pollination”, in which the bee grabs the pollen-producing plant in its jaws and vibrates its wings causing vibrations that dislodge pollen that would have been trapped otherwise. Some plants, including tomatoes, peppers, cranberries and onion seed require “buzz pollination”;
  • Bumble bees carry ‘pollen baskets’ on their hind legs;
  • The female bumble bee is naturally docile and will only sting when its colony is disturbed or they are concerned;
  • Check out the Guide to Distinguishing a Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee here


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