If you were in the Badlands of South Dakota in the Summer, and were paying attention to your bumblebees, you would see this one.
It is big and the queens are extra beefy. This is one of the dark bumbles. More black on the sides of the body and tinted wings. Bug-wise, it doesn’t really get a lot heaftier than this in the North American world. There are some big beetles but they don’t gaily fly around gathering pollen…pretty amazing you big ol’ bumbly bee (wow, did I just say that? I will have to watch it or my pontificatory science license will get revoked).Photo by Kelly Graninger.
One, that in the East, often seems to show up more often in urban areas than outside of cities.
It is uncommon and a surprisingly tricky look-a-like to B. pensylvanicus (note singular “n”). I have both in my yard, which is rural, and I believe it is because I emphasize planting big yellow composites, thistles, and other such late season bloomers…plants that seem to disappear from our over mown roadsides and farm edges these days. This one from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, collected at Morris Arboretum by Stephanie Wilson
Bombus affinis, 2018, Tucker County, West Virginia.
An Endangered Species.
This male was found by Justin DeVault from AllStar Ecology, who with other folks at AllStar, on their own time and dollar, have been surveying bumble bees in the state. Good people, good model, too rarely done, why aren’t you doing this? I digress. After a couple of decades, this is the second specimen for the state. In somewhat nearby Mineral County, one was found in 2017 and about 100 miles away a few more have been found in the mountains of Virginia. The general pattern (other than one in the Shenandoah Valley in 2014 (or 2015)) has been high elevations, openings in heavily wooded general landscapes. There are more to be found…but people have to look. Check out the sporty reddish brown band on the abdomen …this is an aberration of the type that shows up in B. impatiens regularly and at least once before in B. affinis.
Tightly wrapped in fur-like orange hair, this lovely western bumblebee was captured at the far edge of its range in Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
Near the Black Hills, an island of Rocky Mountain type habitat in a sea of prairie, the Badlands are receivers perhaps of bees that otherwise would not inhabit prairie habitats. Photo by Brooke Alexander.
A denizen of the southern Andes and widely believed to be in decline due to competition and perhaps spread of pathogens with two introduced European bumblebees that have invaded the region. You notice this bee when it flies by. Dramatically orange with yellow highlights on the traditional deep black integument of bumblebees.
We know so very little about the actual status of bees that we may have species that need to be listed, but you can’t list something unless you know something about its status. I like to encourage people to submit photos of bees to BugGuide as well as to i-naturalist particularly if they start targeting uncommon plants and their visitors. Traditional collecting of bees for museums is even better. For example, yesterday, within a mile of the laboratory I was poking around and came across a large patch of deerberry and sure enough the very uncommonly recorded specialist (and most people very rare) species Panurginus atramontenis were all over the bloom. I easily could’ve caught over hundred. Just one example where poking around in the right place can yield big results. Bombus affinis is our one endangered species, a bumblebee, and therefore something that people have paid attention to over the years. As part of a larger syndrome of decline due to pathogens brought over from Europe the species is particularly hard-hit and largely restricted to the upper Midwest and Appalachia. Again, take pictures, submit them to Bumblebee Watch and to the other two places I mentioned and maybe we can find some additional specimens.
A head of a specimen of Bombus affinis from the tip of Long Island, collected by the fabulous Roy Lantham a Potato Farmer, naturalist, and insect collector. From what I know, Roy (now passed on) was quite the eccentric, but he made very valuable contributions to all sorts of natural history fields from his collections of local plants and animals.
[Aside: A little sidebar here: Why not do a little self check-in here to assess whether you have made any sort of permanent contribution to the natural history world].
Roy’s permanent contributions form reference points from now until we depopulate ourselves and the insects once again take over. Photograph by Greta Forbes.