Locally “Extinct” Bumblebee Found in Virginia

A routine survey turned up a small ray of hope recently when a single rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis)—thought extinct in the eastern U.S.—popped up in Virginia‘s Sky Meadows State Park (map). 

Scientists first realized that this rare species, which was found in open habitats in New England, the upper Midwest, and parts of Canada, was in trouble about ten years ago throughout much of its range, says T’ai Roulston, an entomologist with the University of Virginia. The insect was last spotted in the eastern U.S. around 2009, and since then researchers have been actively looking for them.

A rusty-patched bumblebee, like those pictured above, was recently found in Virginia. Photographs by Sam Droege

Roulston hopes this new find will allow him and his colleagues from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to figure out why this bee is disappearing. (See more amazing pictures of bees.)

Researchers suspect that an invasive fungus called Nosema bombi, which arrived in the U.S. via commercialized bumblebees meant to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes, could be to blame. Originating in Europe, N. bombi either causes sterility in queens or shortens the life spans of workers and their queen, Roulston says.

He and his team plan to go back to Sky Meadows and the surrounding area to look for the colony the single worker bumblebee had to have come from. “There wasn’t just a single bee flying around the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Roulston says.

The question, the entomologist says, is whether this colony is a remnant and researchers just happened to catch a “last glimpse” of this species that’s more or less extinct on the East Coast. (Watch a video of the unconventional lead scientist of the Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program at the U.S. Geological Survey.)

It’s also possible this particular area of Virginia contains rusty-patched bumblebees that are immune to whatever has taken them out in 90 percent of their range.

Follow Jane J. Lee on Twitter.

Jane J. Lee is a news writer and editor at National Geographic.
  • Ima Ryma

    A human caught a bumblebee,
    Netted it flying through the air.
    But aerodynamically,
    The bumblebee should not fly there.
    Cuz the body is much too big,
    And both the wings are much too small.
    So as the case with wingless pig,
    This plumpie should not fly at all.
    Human computed measurement
    Determines rational or not.
    A bumblebee proves evident,
    There are flights of fancy a lot.

    Just smart humans just can know why
    Dumb bumblebees just cannot fly.

  • patrick

    Your poem is crazy Ima

  • Mark Peterson

    This is the beginning of an end of what was once hi importance and further study of this bumble bee give us insight to future living on this planet. Keep studying to our reaserchers

  • Terra

    Stop posting boring, old, debunked FUD:

    Bumble-bees flies just fine, stop the fake urban legends

  • Deedee

    Soon these type of bumblebees or bees in general will all soon be extinct because they become be useless due to commercialized means of producing plants or flowers. If man will not take care of nature, insects like these will soon start to dwindle.

  • Jay

    It actually makes perfect sense
    its not the weight or size that matters
    i have seen these and always figured they were youngins

  • Anup

    Please check before u comment on any thing. Please visit my home town n ill show u 100 of bumblbee bees flying out every morning and coming to flowers. And abt human calculation some things are correct n where as in others r just made believe. So stop for a minute and then re-think and then pass ur judgement. Sorry but some times education is not enough to make some one smart or rational. The best way to learn is to experience and see it with ur own eyes.

  • Julia

    Of course, we all know that bumblebees fly! The idea that they shouldn’t be able to was based on traditionally held paradigms, and observation and study of them has led to a new understanding of physics. That’s what science is all about!

  • willem

    sweet poem ima

  • Rob

    Hmm, I see these bees all the time here in Jersey! Unless this particular bumblebee is different than the bumblebees I see here?? Those pics look similar though.

  • Rebecca

    That’s pretty cool! And btw, Sweet poem, Ima!

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