Science

"Flying Bulldog", World's Largest Bee, Found Again After Around 40 Years

You'd think that the world's biggest bee would be hard to lose track of.

Wallace's giant bee (Megachile pluto) is named after the man who discovered them - British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. He described the female bee as "a large, black wasp-like insect, with vast jaws like a stag beetle".

Search teams failed to find the bee again, but the rediscovery of a sole female raises hopes that the region's forests still harbour this species.

The giant bee has always been reclusive.

He explains on the website his incredible journey to find the bee alive, which started almost two decades ago when he first learned of Wallace and his travels.

"It was absolutely breathtaking to see this "flying bulldog" of an insect that we weren't sure existed anymore", Bolt said in the statement. "To actually see how lovely 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".

British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace discovered the freakish species on his last day exploring the tropical Indonesian island of Bacan in 1858.

"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", Robin Moore, a conservation biologist with Global Wildlife Conservation, which funded the expedition, told the Guardian.

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Professor Robson, who is also an honorary professor at the University of Sydney, said very little was now known about the giant bee.

Last month, Bolt and his colleagues embarked on a search for termite mounds in trees in Indonesia, the last place a scientist spotted the species.

In 1981, Adam Messer, an entomologist, collected several specimens from three different Indonesian islands, but the bee was missing and presumed extinct until now.

Bolt and Wyman say they want their discovery to draw attention to the bee - and to the need to protect it. Messer's observations of its behaviors - like how it used its giant jaws to gather resin and wood for its nests - provided some insight, but still, the bee remained generally elusive.

They filmed and photographed the giant creature, which is four times larger than a European honeybee.

As has been the case with other historic perceptions about bees, the king bee turned out to be a queen: the females are far larger than the males, which measure less than one inch in length.

To rediscover it, an expedition team led by Clay Bolt and Eli Wyman traveled to the Indonesian island of North Moluccas.

The team that found the female bee released her back to the nest after observing it in a flybox, according to Global Wildlife Conservation.


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