Skip to main content

Monitoring for Bees in Midewin

Photo by Veronica Hinke / USDA Forest Service - Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

In 2017, a challenge cost-share agreement was established between Olivet Nazarene University (ONU) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to study bee life at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, including whether the federally listed endangered rusty patched bumble bee, the first bee species in the continental U.S. to be declared endangered, in 2017, is present. ONU monitors have been active for three seasons. They spotted two rusty patched bumble bees last year—and their studies year-after-year have provided information about a variety of other species of bumble bees and their life habits.

The data that ONU Assistant Professor Dr. Derek Rosenberger and students have been tracking helps measure how the restoration work of Midewin volunteers, partners and staff is helping to bring back habitat for native Illinois prairie species. “At Midewin, we are working with over 275 species of native Illinois prairie plants,” says Midewin Public Services Public Affairs Officer and team leader Veronica Hinke.

Benefits of the monitoring partnership are tremendous to all involved. “ONU students are gaining real-world ecological sampling experience,” Rosenberger says. “Being involved instills a sense of project ownership in the students, and they can contribute to the greater local and regional knowledge of a federally listed endangered species.”

Monitors look for bees in 100-meter transects, spending 30 minutes in each one. Barb Krupa, an undergraduate zoology major at ONU, is active at Midewin as often as three days a week.

The morning of July 26 began chillier than usual, and Rosenberger arrived at the Iron Bridge Trailhead concerned that the colder temperatures might affect bee activity and throw off the count a bit for the day. He explains that bees prefer temperatures in the 80s. As the day got warmer, Rosenberger’s trip to Midewin resulted in many bee sightings on the Iron Bridge Prairie and on the South Patrol Road Prairie.

In addition to rusty patched bumble bee sightings, brown-belted, black and gold and common eastern bumble bees were the most numerous and consistent species spotted. In late July 2018, bumble bees were seen at varying levels in nearly all transects.

ONU recently released a report on the findings from 2018 monitoring, A Survey of Bumble Bees at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie with Special Focus on the Federally Endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, Bombus affinis.

View the report at

*photo description: Ollivet Nazarene University (ONU) Assistant Professor Dr. Derek Rosenberger wades into athick of mesic prairie, on July 26, near the Iron  Bridge Trailhead on the USDA Forest Service Midewin – National Tallgrass Prairie. Rosenberger and ONU students have identified the rusty patched bumble bee twice since monitoring began in 2017 in a cost-share agreement