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Wild Bees in Trouble

American bumblebee,  Credit: Thom Wilson of Baltimore City, MD, USA

American bumblebee, Credit: Thom Wilson of Baltimore City, MD, USA

Half of the bumblebee species in eastern North America are in decline. This trend holds true in southern Ontario, where seven of the 14 bumblebee species found in surveys from 1971 – 1973 were found to be either absent or in decline when surveyed 30 years later. Some of these, like the rusty-patched, the gypsy cuckoo and the American bumblebee, were once common and/or widespread in parts of the province. The causes of decline are not fully understood, though it is widely accepted that habitat destruction and the use of pesticides are significant threats. 

Rusty-patched Bumblebee

Rusty-patched bumble bee, Credit: Christy M. Stewart c\o Owen Conservation

Rusty-patched bumblebee, Credit: Christy M. Stewart

The rusty-patched bumblebee was once common and widespread in eastern North America, including southern Ontario. This species has declined dramatically since the 1970s and is now listed as endangered in Canada. Only a few specimens have been sighted in Ontario in recent years. Though the causes of decline are poorly understood, threats include habitat loss, exposure to pesticides and pathogens from non-native bumblebees used in greenhouses.

Gypsy Cuckoo Bumblebee

Gypsy cuckoo bumble bee, Credit: Sheila Colla

Gypsy cuckoo bumblebee, Credit: Sheila Colla

This large bumblebee once had an extensive range in Canada and was recorded in all provinces and territories except Nunavut. There has been a large decline in the past 20 – 30 years, and in 2014 the species was listed as endangered in Canada. It has not been found in Canada in recent years, and the last recorded sighting in Ontario dates back to 2008. The gypsy cuckoo bumblebee is a nest parasite of other bumblebees, including two species that are also in decline. Primary threats include the decline of these other “host” bumblebees, as well as pesticide use (particularly neonicotinoids) and pathogens from non-native bumblebees used in commercial greenhouses. 

American Bumblebee

American bumble bee, Credit: Dan Mullen CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

American bumblebee, Credit: Dan Mullen CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This above ground-nesting bumblebee is one of the most rapidly declining species in eastern North America. Studies in the U.S. show a significant range reduction and decline in abundance in recent years, even where it was once common. The American bumblebee inhabits open fields and grasslands, and is still found in a few sites in southern Ontario. In surveys performed near Guelph from 2004 – 2006, however, the species was completely absent, even though it had been documented in the region 30 years earlier.


    • Sheila Colla et al. (2012). Biodiversity and Conservation, 21 (14): 3585-3595
    • Sheila Colla & Laurence Packer. (2008). Biodiversity and Conservation, 17 (6): 1379 – 1391
    • COSEWIC. 2014. In Press. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus bohemicus) in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa
    • Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. Managing New Challenges: Annual Report 2013/2014: 50-58


Anne-Bell-thumbnailDr. Anne Bell has been directing Ontario Nature’s conservation and education programs since 2007.


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  1. Kimberley McKibbin

    I read recently that you can now download an app for your phone to report any sightings of bumble bees, however I’m not sure what this app is. I just wanted to report my sightings of 2 separate bumble bees, both in Amherstburg, Ontario. There is always one in my back yard, it seems to like the plants I have in my garden, the other sighting is at the Royal Canadian Legion. For the past 3 years I regularly see bumble bees in these locations.

  2. Nicole DeHetre

    I saw some variety of bumblebee yesterday (07/16/2015) in LaSalle, Ontario. It was hanging out in a wild patch of tall, light purple flowers. I don’t have the exact dates, but I also saw 2 bumblebees around the start of July 2015, also in LaSalle. I tried the link for reporting sightings but had difficulty opening it.

  3. Bob Tschanz

    Don’t know whether this is significant, but I saw a bumblebee feeding on clover here in Ancaster about 8:15 p.m., yesterday, July 18. Saw just one.


  4. David. Batchelor

    Have recently come across what I believe to be a large underground Nest or Hive of Bumblebees. I am not sure what kind they are as I don’t want to get too close!!
    These bees need to be relocated or unfortunately terminated. As they are in a threatening location for the lady owner of an apartment Triplex in Oshawa Ontario is there anyone I can contact about having something done about them?
    I really don’t want to exterminate them
    I can be reached at attached Email address

    • Ontario Nature

      Hi David,

      Bumblebee nests complete their lifecycle (worker bees die off) at the end of the warm season, with the exception of the queen. She moves elsewhere and burrows underground for the winter to start a new nest from scratch next year. So the “problem” should take care of itself!

      Meanwhile, keeping at least a meter away from the nest should be enough distance to avoid stings. The nest can be reported to a citizen science project called bumblebeewatch.org, where experts help identify the species and work to learn more about these amazing insects.

      Several bumble bee species are at risk, so it is important to protect these pollinators wherever possible. Check out Ontario Nature’s Protect our Pollinators campaign for more information about helping our native pollinators co-exist with humans: http://www.ontarionature.org/protect/campaigns/pollinators.php

      ON Dana

  5. Barb Holden

    We have bumble bees nesting under a shed. We are never outside when we don’t see one. I have seen as many as 5 at a time. We watch them go under the shed. We have also seen them trying to burrow in the grass blades. Could anyone tell us what to do? We were supposed to be taking the shed down, but don’t want to do anything to disturb the bumble bees.

    • Ontario Nature

      Hi Barb,

      As you mentioned, bumble bees make nests in leaf litter in meadows or in tall grass and under protective surfaces such as sheds or logs around the edges of fields or forests.

      Your intentions are good and the bumble bees would appreciate your efforts not to disturb them, if they could. If you have plans to remove the shed, that is understandable. It may be best to remove the shed in winter so as not to disturb the bees after they have prepared the overwintering site. If you do not pave over the area and leave the area to renaturalize, the bumble bees may continue nesting there or may return to nest.

      ON Noah

  6. Barb Holden

    What seemed so strange was the fact that we live nowhere near a field or forest. We do, however, have lots of trees in the neighbourhood. The shed probably won’t come down now before the spring. We don’t want to harm the bees. That’s not my first choice, but we feel if we can do a little to assist them…so be it. We had planned to put a garden in where the shed now stands….guess we’ll have to wait and see what spring brings.
    Thanks for your response.

  7. Dolores O'Donnell

    I was unable to find the names of wildflowers we should be looking for to plant for our bees.
    Can anyone out there help?

  8. Patience

    I am interested in plantings that make bees happy but are more like ground cover that does not over spread OR require looking after!

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