The mystery of the world’s largest bee

Posted by Anita Froneman on 15 May 2020

Bees are a vital part of the ecosystem, but somehow always seem to find themselves on the brink of extinction. Such was the case with Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto).

This pollinator has been presumed extinct a number of times, only to bounce back and be rediscovered every few years.

First recorded in 1859 by scientist Alfred Russel Wallace, this giant bee made quite the impression because of its size.

The bee grows up to almost 4cm with a wingspan of over 6cm and has large mandibles like those of a stag beetle. It uses them to scrape sticky resin off trees to build burrows within termite nests, where females raise their young.

The giant bee species was not seen again for many years and thought to be extinct, until an entomologist named Adam Messer found it on three islands in Indonesia in 1981. Again, the bee seemingly disappeared for years after that.

Then in 2019, a research team including photographer Clay Bolt, US biologist Eli Wyman, Australian biologist Simon Robson, and writer Glen Chilton found this elusive bee again in Indonesia.

‘It was absolutely breathtaking to see this “flying bulldog” of an insect that we weren’t sure existed any more,’ said Bolt. ‘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.’

Wallace’s giant bee is currently only considered ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is problematic as the bee has been found to be for sale on eBay to collectors after its recent discovery.

Source: National Geographic

Image credit: Instagram/GlobalWildlifeConservation

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