What’s Buzzing? New Bumblebee Discovery at Pennsylvania Mountain

Bee on yellow flower

What’s Buzzing? New Bumblebee Discovery at Pennsylvania Mountain

While studying genetic diversity in bumble bees at Pennsylvania Mountain near Fairplay, CO and other areas in the Rocky Mountains last summer, researchers from Uppsala University discovered a new species! They named it Bombus incognitus and presented their findings in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution recently.

Assistant Professor at Webster University and research colleague, Nicole Miller-Struttmann, Ph. D. said, “We sampled bumble bees at Pennsylvania Mountain and six other locations in Colorado. Originally, we had planned to see which parts of the genome influenced tongue length, an important foraging trait for bumble bees. However, we were shocked when we looked at their genomes and saw that we had three, not two, species! This hidden species looks nearly identical to B. syvicola and is not genetically related to any other species with published genomic data. This suggests that we have a new, cryptic species, which we refer to as B. incognitus. We still have some taxonomic work to do to describe the new species in detail and are excited to explore its ecology and evolution in more detail – now that we know it’s there!”

Dr. Candi Galen who has conducted research for over 40 years in this area responded, “I think at a time when extinction seems inevitable, it is heartening to hear that there are still undiscovered species in the wild areas of the earth. And, this makes MALT’s work conserving those wild areas, like the high alpine habitat of Bombus incognitus, especially valuable.”

Dr. Galen, a professor emerita of biological sciences, is an evolutionary ecologist recognized for her research on the ecological dynamics of species interactions. Her studies include an over forty-year analysis of floral evolution in alpine skypilots (Polemonium viscosum) conducted on and around Pennsylvania Mountain. Dr. Galen’s findings that bumble bee pollinators exert strong directional selection on the floral traits of this plant species is considered a classic in the field of evolutionary biology.