While many Iowans are spending a large portion of time toiling in their yards with the chore of raking leaves, an environmental expert suggests they leave the leaves alone — at least some of them.
Jill Utrup, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says create a pile of leaves at the edge or your yard or behind the house and just — leave it. “By not raking your leaves, you’re actually leaving a lot of beneficial habitat for many of our beneficial pollinators,” Utrup says. “One pollinator in particular that we’re concerned with is the rusty patched bumblebee, which is a federally-endangered species.”
If you’re concerned about having a hive of unruly insects in the vicinity of your home, she says not to worry. “Only a single queen will actually overwinter, the rest of her colony will die off and she will overwinter,” Utrup says. “She uses what we’d typically see as an unkept spot, leaf piles and brush piles — that type of thing, is what they’re looking for.”
Don’t worry about getting stung next spring, either. She says this is among the first insects to emerge once the snow melts. The rusty patched bumblebee was designated as endangered in 2017 and special teams fanned out in Iowa and several other Midwestern states during 2018 to search out the insect and determine its status here. Their findings were something of a surprise.
“They’re thriving still in people’s backyards, believe it or not,” Utrup says. “Whereas a lot of our endangered species we’re finding in more pristine and intact habitat, the rusty patched is more of a generalist. We’re still learning about its requirements and the threats to the species as well.”
The bees were confirmed in multiple Iowa counties and in several metro areas, including: Ames, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Iowa City, Le Mars, Sioux City and Waterloo. Learn more at www.bumblebeewatch.org.