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Federally endangered bee found at Nahant Marsh in Davenport
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Federally endangered bee found at Nahant Marsh in Davenport

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Amy Loving was working at Davenport's Nahant Marsh Education Center,  taking photos of bees and other insects buzzing around the building in preparation for an upcoming program.

Spotting a bee in some white clover, she crouched down to get a shot.

Back inside the center some time later, she was scrolling through her images when suddenly she felt her heart begin to race. One of her pictures showed a bee with a rusty patch in its yellow backside.

"That's got to be a rusty patched bumble bee!'" she said to herself.

While that discovery likely doesn't mean much to the person on the street, it's a very big deal to naturalists.

The bee is on the federal Endangered Species List, and many Quad-City area naturalists have been hoping to find one for years, especially as they conducted annual "bio blitzes" in various natural areas.

But until the morning of July 6, no one had.

Loving uploaded her picture to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, an Oregon-based  organization specializing in bees, and both confirmed her sighting as the real thing. 

Loving's bee is the first confirmed sighting of the rare creature in Scott County.

"I was extremely excited," Loving, Nahant's director of education, said. 

As it happens, bumble bees are Loving's specialty and, being an educator, she likes telling people about them. You have questions? She has answers.

Why are bumble bees important? They are important, she said, because they are "buzz" pollinators. Certain plants — notably the widely planted and beloved tomato — will not pollinate without the vibration caused by the flight muscles of the bee while clinging to the flower.

The vibration opens the flower so that its pollen, the male part, can be released, finding its way to the female part of the flower to make a tomato.

How are they identified? Bumble bees generally are identified by the color segments of their abdomen. The rusty patch has, as its name implies, a rusty patch on its second yellow segment. There is a close "look alike" bee that is very common, but it lacks the yellow coloring around the patch.

How do rusty patched bumble bees live? They don't live in a hive like a honey bee. Instead, they nest underground or in cavities such as an abandoned birdhouse, Loving said.

The bee Loving photographed was identified as a female worker bee with two pollen sacs that she likely collected as food for her colony.

Because bees don't generally stray too far from their nest, "I would say it is a definite possibility" that there is a colony of rusty patched bumble bees at Nahant, she said.

What do your co-workers think? The staff at Nahant is very proud and shares Loving's excitement.

"The confirmed sighting showcases the importance of protecting and restoring natural areas," according to a news release from the center.

"Nahant Marsh will continue the work to restore and enhance the biodiversity in their prairies and woodlands, which is critical habitat for the rusty patched bumble bee and other similar species."

Where did rusty patches used to live and what happened to them? The rusty patch, federally listed as endangered since 2017, was once commonly found along the east coast of the United States from southern Maine south through Georgia with an extension west along the northern states through Minnesota,” according to the release.

Threats such as fragmented and decreased habitat, commercial rearing, herbicides and insecticides are causing the decline of not only the rusty patched bumble bee, but other pollinators across the board, the release said.

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