All black, the size of a human thumb, Wallace’s bee, the largest in the world, had not been seen for decades: researchers announced Thursday to have finally found on a remote island of Indonesia. The last time a person reported seeing a giant Wallace bee living in the wild was in 1981.
Researchers were able to trace it on February 21, on an island in Indonesia. This “megachile pluto” was discovered by the British Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858. The female can reach almost 4 cm long and more than 6 cm wingspan, four times larger than the honey bee. Previous expeditions in the region had failed to locate it. She makes her hives in termite mounds, using resin to protect her termite colony.
“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘fly bulldog’ of an insect we were no longer sure of – to have real evidence in the wild in front of us,” said the history photographer natural Clay Bolt, who was part of a small team chasing Wallace’s giant bee.
The team discovered a female bee living in a nest of termites on the side of a tree, the preferred habitat of large bees. Wallace’s giant female bees use resin and wood to create tunnels and cells in existing nests, creating their own living space away from termites.
“I hope this rediscovery will trigger new research that will help us better understand and protect this unique bee,” said Eli Wyman, an entomologist at Princeton University who was on the trip.
Previous expeditions in the region had failed to locate it.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species, classifies Wallace’s bee as “vulnerable”, not endangered, noting that its remote habitat makes its study difficult.