Rusty Patched Bumble Bees

Highly effective pollinators, bumblebees are usually the first bees active in the spring and the last bees active in the autumn. Their claim to fame is "buzz pollination," also called sonication. In order to be successfully pollinated, some flowers - like those of tomatoes, peppers, cranberries & blueberries - must be vibrated or shaken, similar to the action of a salt shaker. Bumble bees are very efficient buzz pollinators. The bees grab the flower and vibrate (sonicate) their flight muscles at roughly the same frequency as a middle C musical note. There is an audible buzz as the bees enable pollination, hence the name.

The Rusty-patched Bumble Bee is one example of a Canadian bumblebee. Although it was once very common throughout southern Ontario, extensive searches for it by scientists have resulted in the observation of only three specimens in Canada over the past 6 years. The decline in its population has been so drastic that in April 2010, it was added to the Canadian Species At Risk registry as an endangered species, giving it the dubious distinction of becoming the 1st federally listed bee in North America.

Identifiable by the rusty patch (not bands) on its abdomen, this bee is a habitat generalist - active in mixed farmland, savannah, sand dunes, wetlands, urban environments, and lightly wooded areas from April to October. Sue Chan writes that the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee is thought to be an important pollinator of both agricultural and native flowering plants because it forages for a longer period than most other bumble bees and is found in such varied habitats.*

Want to Help?

  • Make a contribution towards Wildlife Preservation Canada
  • Help reverse the loss of native pollinator habitat by protecting or planting native flowering plants on your property.
  • Let colonies of native bees exist on your property - bumblebees and other bees are quite docile when undisturbed and usually will only sting when trapped.
  • Support organic agriculture in Ontario


Photo Credit: Johanna James-Heinz

*Sue Chan, Landowner’s Guide to Conserving Native Pollinators in Ontario