Thirty-eight years ago, the world’s largest bee was presumed extinct. On an expedition to Indonesia, however, a specimen of Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto) was found alive.
The Guardian reports that a fully-grown Wallace’s giant bee is four times the size of a honeybee, or as long as an adult thumb. Its appearance is slightly intimidating, due to its jaws which are similar to those of a stag beetle.
The surviving giant bee was discovered by a team of North American and Australian biologists during a trip to the Indonesian islands of the North Moluccas. They found the giant bee living inside a termite’s nest in a tree, more than 2 meters off the ground.
“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘flying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed any more,” said Clay Bolt, who photographed the first images of the species alive. “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 giant bee was first discovered in 1858 by explorer and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. He found the species on the tropical Indonesian island of Bacan. Wallace described the insect as “a large, black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag beetle.” Because the bee is elusive, little is known about its life cycle.
Deforestation is largely to blame for the giant bee’s dwindling population. Collectors who value its rarity are also a threat. At present, there is no legal protection concerning the trading of Wallace’s giant bee.
To preserve the species, Robin Moore, a conservation biologist with the Global Wildlife Conservation, runs a program The Search for Lost Species. “We know that putting the news out about this rediscovery could seem like a big risk given the demand, but the reality is that unscrupulous collectors already know that the bee is out there,” said Moore.
He added that it is vital for conservationists to make the Indonesian government aware of the bee. “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,” he said.
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