Animals

Vanishing Bumble Bee Species Reappears in Virginia

The rusty-patch species, long unseen in the area, has been found by a bee survey team.

A bee that's feared to be on the fast track to extinction, and one not seen on the east coast of the United States in five years, has been found by a research team while surveying bees in Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, Va.

The rusty-patch bumble bee has disappeared from 87% of its upper midwest and eastern seabord regions. But now a Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute team has found exactly one individual of the species.

"We thought this bumble bee was extinct in this region," said team co-leader Bill McShea in a release. "Finding one bee, well this is the stuff conservationists live for."

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McShea and his team were surveying bee populations among 17 sites in Virginia between May and August, to learn more about how land management affects bee diversity, when they came across the bumble bee they'd given up hope of seeing anytime soon, or perhaps ever.

Worker rusty-patch bumble bees have a rust-colored patch located on their second abdominal segment. Once common, the exact cause for their decline is not known, although an accidentally introduced European fungus called Nosema bombi is considered a suspect. That fungus is thought to be the cause of the sudden decline of several other bumble bee species in the United States, including the American bumble bee (B. pensylvanicus).

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"In 20 years of studying bees, I have never seen a rusty-patched," said co-team-leader T'ai Roulston, from the University of Virginia, who is looking ahead to further study of the bee. "Where there is a worker bee, there is a colony and maybe more than one," he explained. "As they've gone underground for the winter, we can actively look for the colony next spring and study them and what might be affecting the species."

Roulston speculates that the rusty-patch population at the site may have developed a resistance to the fungus. "Or," he said, "we've discovered one of the last colonies and will get one more glimpse before they disappear forever."

The rusty-patch bumble bee

The U.S. Geological Survey is posting photos of insects on its

Flickr page

, offering a macro look at this hidden world. First up, this Festive Tiger Beetle (

Cicindela scutellaris

) was found on top of a butte in Badlands National Park that had ancient windblown sand at its crest. Here, this sand specialist can build its long burrows.

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This Agapostemon bee species is one of the most common native bees in the eastern United States. In almost any field there can be hundreds, if not thousands, of these bees visiting a wide variety of blooming plants. One of the largest of the sweat bees, it still goes undetected if you don't get down on your knees, face close, among the flowers. This one was collected at Colorado National Monument, Mesa County, Colo.

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This wild bee (

Hoplitis fulgida

), a female from Grand Tetons National Park, was collected as part of a study of climate change. Most species in this genus are black , but a few, like this one, are as the Latin in name implies, glittering jewels.

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This unknown wasp was collected in Cecil County, Md.

This is an unknown species of Robber Fly from Charles County, Md. Robber flies, a very large and widespread type of fly, feed on many different kinds of insects, making them a key player in maintaining the insect balance in different environments.

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One species of the rarely seen leafcutting bee, this is

Megachile integrella

from the sandhills of North Carolina. Leafcutter bees are so called because they cut plant leaves to create the cells in their nests. The bees tend to build their homes in rotted wood or in the strong stems of plants.

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Phidippus clarus

is a type of jumping spider. This one was found in Beltsville, Md., but

Phidippus clarus

lives in fields and prairies across North America. It feeds on seasonal plants.

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Eggplant Tortoise Beetles like eggplants (go figure), eating holes in the plants' leaves. From the underside, the insects look quite queenly, with their ruffled collars. This one was gathered at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, in Anne Arundel County, Md.

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The Karner blue butterfly,

Lycaeides melissa samuelis

, is endangered. Karner blue butterflies feed on nectar from many different types of flowers, but their larvae can survive on the leaves of only one specific plant, which has been decimated by habitat loss or change.

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Deer flies like this one, despite their groovy eyes, deliver a ferocious bite. And no wonder: when the female bites (males don't bite), she lacerates the skin and when the blood flows, sponges it up with her mouth. There are over 110 species of deer fly.

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Centris bees, like this one, make their homes in holes, either in trees or in the ground.

The biggest visual difference between damselflies and dragonflies are their wing positions when resting. Dragonflies hold their wings open, while damselflies close them above their backs. This Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly (

Calopteryx maculata

) was found on a Beltsville, Md. stream.