Scientists Rediscover World’s Largest Bee in Indonesia After Over Thirty Years

Scientists Rediscover World’s Largest Bee in Indonesia After Over Thirty Years

- in News, World
The bee is around four times larger than a European honeybee. Image of Wallace's bee by Clay Bolt.

If you’re scared of bees, you may want to sit down.

A species of giant bee once thought to be extinct has been rediscovered in Indonesia by an international team of researchers.

Bee Expert Eli Wyman with the first rediscovered individual of Wallace’s Giant Bee. Image by Clay Bolt.

The massive insect has a wingspan of more than 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) and has been affectionately called a “flying bulldog” by conservation photographer Clay Bolt. Bolt took the first-ever photos of a living Wallace’s giant bee.

The bee hasn’t been spotted in more than three decades. Many postulated that it had gone extinct.

The find is being hailed as the “holy grail” of bee discoveries.

The team of scientists and conservationist discovered the bea on an expedition last month to the North Moluccas island group in Indonesia. They had one specific agenda: find Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto).  The team finally spotted a single female Wallace’s giant bee on the last day of their five-day stop at a particular area.

Bolt and fellow researcher entomologist Eli Wyman spent several days researching what the ideal environment for the giant bee would be, if they still existed in the wild. The female flying bulldog was spotted by the team in an active termite nest about 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) off the ground in a tree where the been had apparently been living.

Bolt called the discovery “absolutely breathtaking”.

“To see how beautiful and big the species is in real life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it flew past my head, was just incredible. My dream is to now use this rediscovery to elevate this bee to a symbol of conservation in this part of Indonesia.” Bolt said.

The bee in around the size of a thumb and is named after researcher Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace famously contributed to the theory of evolution through natural selection. He also first discovered the bee over a century ago.

Wallace detailed the bee and described it to be “a large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag-beetle.”

The bee wasn’t spotted again for decades. Finally, in 1981, entomologist Adam Messer was able to observe the giant insect and describe its behavior. Messer noted its tendency to nest in termite mounds, constructing termite-proof barriers for their nests using tree resin collected using their mandibles.

“Amid such a well-documented global decline in insect diversity it’s wonderful to discover that this iconic species is still hanging on,” said team member Simon Robson.

The team said that they hope the discovery would encourage conservation of the world’s forests, as they may contain more specimens of this and other rare species.

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