Species of bumblebee not found in Oklahoma since 1999 discovered at OKC Zoo

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A two-spotted bumblebee that has not been found in Oklahoma for more than 20 years was discovered at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden earlier this month.

The unique pollinator, Bombus bimaculatus, was last seen in the state in 1999.

Bee researcher, José Montalva, recognized the two-spotted bumblebee earlier this month on zoo grounds. A graduate student at the University of Oklahoma and an instructor at East Central University, Montalva is conducting an ongoing survey at the OKC Zoo to study native bees that inhabit the park and record which floral resources they use, and what other environmental factors (biotic and abiotic) benefit bees. To date, Montalva has recorded almost 40 species of native bees at the zoo.

The small one flying is a sunflower bee and the other one is a brown-belted bumblebee, Bombus griseocollis.   
Courtesy: OKC Zoo

“What a thrill to learn that our funding dollars have led to the identification of a favorite creature vital to the future of Oklahoma ecology,” said Louisa McCune, Kirkpatrick Foundation’s executive director. “Bumblebees have needed research support like never before, so that makes it especially wonderful to see the Oklahoma City Zoo have such a breakthrough discovery.”

At one time, the state was home to ten species of bumblebees including the two-spotted bumblebee but a study completed in 2015 by L. Figueroa and E. Bergey identified only four species of bumblebee thriving here.

 “Finding this bumblebee back in Oklahoma after two decades is a great indication that the OKC Zoo provides vital habitat for native species,” said Rebecca Snyder, OKC Zoo’s director of conservation and science. “The Zoo is committed to helping increase pollinator populations through research and local conservation efforts aimed at creating more habitat. The zoo also hopes to inspire people to care about the future of these important insects.”

The two-spotted bumblebee is fuzzy with a mostly yellow thorax with patches of black hairs at the base of its wings. They also have a distinct two-spotted yellow patch of hair on their second abdominal area. These valuable insects perform the critical role of pollinating the world’s flowering plants and crops and without them our ecosystems and economies would be in trouble. According to the OKC Zoo, worldwide bumblebee populations are experiencing dramatic population declines due to habitat fragmentation, pesticides and climate events. 

Courtesy: OKC Zoo

The OKC Zoo currently maintains four on-site beehives. The bees contribute to the pollination process across the zoo’s 100+ acres, keeping the numerous designated horticultural displays including the zoo’s outdoor butterfly garden – the largest in Oklahoma – naturally vibrant and thriving. All four beehives are located in an undeveloped area south of the elephant habitat, away from walking paths and animal habitats accessible to guests.

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