The mere sight of this bee would send many into an instant panic, but for the team of North American and Australian experts who rediscovered it last January, it was instant jubilation.
The giant bee, known as Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto), was believed to be lost to science until scientists finally found a single live female on a small Indonesian island called North Moluccas in January 2019. Named after Alfred Russel Wallace, the famous British naturalist who discovered the species in 1859 on the island of Bacan in Indonesia, the bee had not been seen since 1981 when biologist Adam Messer discovered six nests in the same area.
The bee is the world’s largest, as long as an adult thumb, with a wingspan of two-and-a-half inches and large, pointy jaws. Wallace described the bee as “a large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws and a stag-beetle.”
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Clay Bolt, a photographer who was part of the recent expedition, said, “It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘flying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed anymore, to have real proof right there in front of us in the wild. To actually see how beautiful and big the species is in life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it flew past my head, was just incredible.”
The rediscovery is a positive indicator that the region’s forests may still be hospitable to one of the world’s rarest insects. It’s also hoped to encourage further research regarding the bee and efforts to protect it from extinction. Robin Moore, with Global Wildlife Conservation, said, “By making the bee a world-famous flagship for conservation, we are confident that the species has a brighter future than if we just let it quietly be collected into oblivion.”
H/T: BBC News