Once thought extinct, world's biggest bee «rediscovered» in Indonesia

JAKARTA. KAZINFORM The world's largest bee, which until recently was feared to be extinct, was "rediscovered" last month on Maluku Islands of eastern Indonesia, an international conservation organization said this week, Kyodo reported.

Global Wildlife Conservation said in a press statement that a single Wallace's giant bee (Megachile pluto) female was found in late January on Ternate Island in North Maluku Province by a search team of North American and Australian biologists.

"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," said team member Clay Bolt, a natural history photographer specializing in bees who took the first photos and video 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," Bolt said.

Females may reach a length of 3.8 centimeters, with a wingspan of over 6 cm. Males are nearly twice as small.

The species was first found and described by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of theory of evolution by natural selection, in 1858 on his last day exploring the island of Bacan, also in North Maluku.

It was not seen again until 1981, when entomologist Adam Messer rediscovered it on three islands in the province and observed some of the species' behavior, including how it uses its giant mandibles to gather resin and wood for its nests.

A female specimen was collected by the French-born entomologist Roch Desmier de Chenon in 1991 on the island of Halmahera, but since then, other researchers have had no luck finding the bee.

However, a single female specimen freshly collected on Bacan in February 2018 was sold on an international online auction for thousands of dollars, followed by another later the same year.

The latest confirmation of its existence, according to Global Wildlife Conservation, has raised hopes that more of North Maluku's forests still harbor the insect.

"I hope this rediscovery will spark future research that will give us a deeper understanding of the life history of this very unique bee and inform any future efforts to protect it from extinction," said bee expert Eli Wyman, an entomologist at Princeton University who also was on the team.

According to Bolt, the bee depends on primary lowland forest for resin and the nests of tree-dwelling termites. In Indonesia, forest destruction for agriculture, however, has threatened the habitats of the species and many others.Global Forest Watch said that between 2001 and 2017, Indonesia lost 15 percent of its tree cover.

The conservation group said the bee has also been hunted by wildlife trade collectors due to its impressive size and seemingly rare status, while no legal protection is currently granted for the 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 conservation biologist Robin Moore, the group's leader.

The team has already started conversations with Indonesian collaborators to look for Wallace's giant bee in other locations with the hope of eventually working together to develop a plan to strengthen conservation measures for the bee, the statement said.

"My dream is to now use this rediscovery to elevate this bee to a symbol of conservation in this part of Indonesia, and a point of pride for the locals there," Bolt said.

Currently reading