On 14 August, 2008, near Peoria, Illinois, Johanna James-Heinz, a citizen-scientist volunteer for the BeeSpotter program, snapped the excellent photographs shown here, of a bee known as the rusty-patched bumble bee, Bombus affinis. As the common name indicates (and as can be seen in these images), this species is recognized by the rust-colored patches (completely surrounded by yellow) on the abdomen.
This bee has been recorded from a wide range of localities throughout the eastern half of North America, but it has declined markedly in recent years, as have several other bumble bee species. According to the 2005 Red List of Pollinator Insects of North America, "For all of these species, habitat loss and degradation and extensive pesticide use are threats faced daily." Furthermore, it has been hypothesized that the principal cause for these population declines is the introduction of exotic disease organisms and pathogens via trafficking in commercial bumble bee queens and colonies for greenhouse pollination of tomatoes. This hypothesis is currently being investigated by some of our BeeSpotter research team, under a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.
In Illinois, B. affinis is rare and found in isolated populations. The fact that a citizen scientist was able to show conclusively that B. affinis still exists in our state attests to the power of having many interested people out there photodocumenting bees in Illinois. This is a primary aim of BeeSpotter.
If you see this bee and can take a photo of it, please consider submitting your photo(s) to BeeSpotter, as this would be very helpful to the project. Because the bee is in decline in our state, we recommend that any individuals seen (especially females) should not be collected.