Photo by Dubuque County Conservation

A rare bumble bee has been sighted in northeastern Iowa. Kaytlan Moeller, outreach coordinator for Dubuque County Conservation, calls it a “super-exciting” find.

“The rusty patched bumble bee is a designated, federally-endangered species,” Moeller says. “It’s been endangered since 2017 and is actually one of about 21 bee species that are endangered in the United States. And we happened to find this rusty patched bumble bee in some of our what we call pocket prairies in Dubuque County.”

The bees were found in a “Mowing to Monarchs” program prairie area late this summer. The county created the program to develop native habitat three years ago, with the goal to help the endangered monarch butterflies and other pollinators.

“You’re transforming your turfgrass over to monarch habitat,” she says. “Monarchs are kind of a keystone species, so if you have monarchs in your areas, you have other very sensitive and rare pollinators as well. So it was the goal to build habitat for our community here in Dubuque County and yes, it’s doing exactly that.”

All Iowans can help pollinators like bumblebees and butterflies. Moeller says it’s as simple as leaving your fall leaves and other dead plants where they are for the winter, a movement called “Leave the Leaves.”

“The best thing to do with your pollinator garden or any of your landscaping that you have in your yard is actually to leave it because those native species use that area for a refuge,” Moeller says. “They overwinter in the form of an egg or maybe as an adult or maybe a queen bee who’s actually impregnated for next spring. She’s going to come out and make a new hive.”

Moeller says our yards can help sequester carbon, improve water quality, rebuild biodiversity and still be beautiful. Nearly 200 Dubuque County landowners have participated in this ongoing program, planting 120,000 square feet of prairie — and Moeller says it’s been a big success that has the potential to take off in other areas, too.

(Janelle Tucker, KMCH, Manchester)