By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 04, 2022 at 1:01 PM

There are plenty of endangered species to be found at the Milwaukee County Zoo, but recently an unexpected one showed up.

The critically endangered rusty patched bumble bee was seen, photographed and documented during the annual Backyard Bumble Bee Count, which ended on Aug. 1.

The species of bee, which is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, was once more common across the U.S. northeast, according to the Zoological Society, but it has declined by 87 percent over the past two decades.

And that's bad news for farmers and folks who enjoy eating the crops that these bees typically pollinate, from plums to blueberries to apples to Wisconsin cranberries.

“This is a very exciting moment for all of us," says Auriana Donaldson, conservation programs coordinator for the Zoological Society of Milwaukee.

"Knowing that this species of bumble bee is at risk of extinction, it feels incredible to get this moment of hope,”

The annual Backyard Bumble Bee Count takes place all over the world, crowdsourcing folks like you and I to help watch for bumble bees, photograph them and submit the pictures to iNaturalist to help track populations and provide data for conservation efforts.

UW-Madison graduate student Emily Sneed led the team at the zoo this year and she had her camera at the ready when she spotted the endangered bee as it landed on a flower.

Seeing Sneed's photo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) field biologists confirmed the sighting and identification.

Maybe the bee was here thanks to this year's No Mow May, which encouraged people to avoid mowing lawns during an important time for pollinators.

Queen bees hibernate in our yards and mowing too soon could be deadly for them.

“If all we do is wait to mow our lawns," Donaldson says, "then bees will be given more time to have the food and resources they need to survive.”

Next time you're at the zoo, you might see an endangered tiger, orangutan or spider monkey, but you also might spy a rare bumble bee!

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.