World’s Largest Bee Thought Extinct Makes a Comeback in Indonesia

World’s Largest Bee Thought Extinct Makes a Comeback in Indonesia
Carl Samson
February 22, 2019
A bee species once thought to have faced extinction was rediscovered in its native home of Indonesia last month.
A female Megachile pluto, known as Wallace’s Giant Bee, was spotted in the province of North Maluku while scientists conducted research in the area for five days.
Last seen in 1981, the Wallace’s Giant Bee has a body measuring 1.5 inches (3.5 centimeters) in length — about the size of the human thumb — and a wingspan measuring more than 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters).
As colonies, the bees build communal nests “always within” the inhabited nests of tree-dwelling termites, according to a study published in 1984.
It comes as no surprise that the solitary female bee was found in its nest within an active termite mound.
“Amid such a well-documented global decline in insect diversity it’s wonderful to discover that this iconic species is still hanging on,” said Simon Robson, a University of Sydney honorary professor involved in the study.
The species gets its name from Alfred Russell Wallace, an English scientist known for conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection independent of Charles Darwin.
Apparently, Wallace discovered the species while exploring the Indonesian island of Bacan — a female bee he described as “a large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag-beetle.”
The new images were captured by Clay Bolt, a natural history photographer who specializes in bees. He described Wallace’s Giant Bee as a “flying bulldog.”
“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘flying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed anymore.”
Little is known about the bee, but the team already started conversations with Indonesian collaborators to find the species in other locations.
They hope that its recent rediscovery can spark interest in further research, and eventually, conservation measures.
“Messer’s rediscovery gave us some insight, but we still know next to nothing about this extraordinary insect,” said Eli Wyman, a team member from Princeton University. “I hope this rediscovery will spark research that will give us a deeper understanding of this unique bee and inform any future efforts to protect it from extinction.”
Images via Clay Bolt
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