All summer we’ve been searching and searching for the ever elusive Rusty Patched Bumble Bee and now is the time to really ramp up our efforts! Why, you ask? Well, as you may know, the defining characteristic of Rusty Patched Bumble Bees is the brown patch that is apparent on its abdomen. Queen Rusty Patches don’t have them and the workers do sometimes, but not always; however, male Rusty Patches always have that tell-tale brown patch and late-August to early-September is when the males come out in force!
If you remember back to our training event, we talked a little bit about the ecology and life cycle of bumble bees. The life cycle (simplified) goes like this: queens that overwintered emerge in the early Spring and start foraging and laying eggs for workers. When those workers (females or asexual) emerge then they take over foraging duties and keep a steady supply of pollen and nectar available for the colony. Then, nearing the end of summer, the males emerge to mate with the females that have been selected to become queens for the next season. The timing of male emergence differs depending on the species, and the Rusty Patches have one of the later emerging male castes of all the bumble bee species that we have in the Southern Appalachian Mountains with males reaching their peak in late-August to early-September.
To make the most of this time, we’re going to visit five different sites with one overnight camping trip to document any changes we see from the evening species composition to the morning. If you can’t make any of these outings I encourage you to get out there on your own as much as you can and to as many locations as you can from late-August to early-September to give us the best chance of locating this wonderfully rare species!
If you want to join in on any of the outings listed below please RSVP by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org!
Bumble Bee Blitz Outings: Late-August to Early-September
Monday, August 27 – Evening Survey at Beauty Spot Bald: This is a site where a large group of Wild South citizen scientists visited earlier this year because of a suspicious bumble bee found by one of the volunteers. Last time we were there, they mowed the field, hindering our ability to get a good sample a bit, but this time, we’ll get back out there and see what it looks like a month after mowing. We’ll hit this site in the evening this time to see if the composition of species is any different than it is in the morning!
Details: We will meet at the trailhead at 5:30 pm (we will determine carpooling once RSVPs are in) and survey until the sun goes down or the bumble bees disappear. Sunset will be around 8:00 pm that day.
Friday, August 31 – Elk Knob: We haven’t had many opportunities to get out with Wild South for our Boone area participants, but Friday and Saturday, August 31 and September 1 are for you! This site hasn’t had many observations come in and it’s one of the priority locations for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee.
Details: We will meet at the trailhead at 9:00 am (we will determine carpooling once RSVPs are in) and will have a 1.7 mile hike to the summit (3.4 miles round trip). Plan for at least 4 hours on the trail.
Saturday, September 1 – Yellow Mountain: This is a new site that we haven’t surveyed before that will act as kind of an extension on surveys that have happened at the Roan Mountain Balds. We’ve always found a ton of different species and the Roan Mountain Balds, so we’re expecting big things from this site!
Details: We will meet at the trailhead at 9:00 am (we will determine carpooling once RSVPs are in) and will have a total of about 2-4 miles of hiking (out and back and depending on if we try to make it to Little Hump Mountain) so plan for at least 4 hours at the site plus an hour of driving either way.
Wednesday, September 5 – Evening at Black Balsam Knob: We’ve had some observations come in from Black Balsam Knob, but we’ve never been able to get too deep down the trail there so this time, we’ll see how far we can get and we’re going to do it in the evening so we might see a different suite of species than we see in the morning and during the day!
Details: We will meet at the trailhead at 5:30 pm (we will determine carpooling once RSVPs are in) and survey until the sun goes down or the bumble bees disappear. Sunset will be around 8:15 pm that day.
Friday and Saturday, September 7 and 8 – Camping at Sam’s Gap on the AT: This site has been the most exciting site to me (Morgan) all year, but we haven’t made it out there yet in the evening. So, to make the most out of that site, we’re going to head up the trail in the evening for a bumble bee survey, then we’ll camp out right near the meadow to get up in the morning and survey again. Doing this, we’ll be able to see if the suite of species change from the morning to the evening and give us our best chance of finding a Rusty Patched Bumble Bee at this extremely biodiverse site!
Details: We will meet at the trailhead at 5:30 pm (we will determine carpooling once RSVPs are in), hike in about 1.7 miles and then set up camp. Then we’ll survey until the sun goes down or the bees disappear. We will camp overnight at the meadow and then wake up in the morning and do another good survey effort for about 1-1.5 hours. We’ll plan to be back in Asheville by 1:00 pm on Saturday, September 8.