World's Biggest Bee Thought To Be Extinct Has Been Rediscovered

An image of a living Wallace’s giant bee compared to a honeybee

The insects are about four times larger than the common honey bee or about as long as a human thumb.

A release issued early Friday morning in Australia announced the rediscovery of the rare Wallace's giant bee, believed to be extinct since its disappearance to scientists in 1981, on the North Moluccas island group in Indonesia. The creatures are about 1.5 inches long, has a 2.5 inch wingspan, and has been referred to as a "nightmare bee". "Local informants had never seen the bee prior to its rediscovery, although a specific folk epithet, o ofungu ma koana, 'king bee, ' is based on it". Pointing a torch into the hole, who did they discover peeking out at them but a single female Wallace's giant bee.

"It was absolutely breathtaking to see this "flying bulldog" of an insect that we weren't sure existed any more", photographer Clay Bolt told The Guardian. The species, Megachile pluto, also known as Wallace's giant bee, is around four times bigger than the European honeybee.

"To actually see how attractive 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 added.

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

Researchers and conservationists with the group say they stumbled upon the female specimen living inside a termites' nest in a tree almost two meters off the ground.

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British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who explored many of Southeast Asia's most remote ecosystems, first described the giant bee species, Megachile pluto, in 1858.

The Global Wildlife Conservation is a nonproft that's been searching for "lost" species, or species that might not actually be extinct, but haven't been seen in a decade or more. The last time a specimen was spotted was 1981.

Bolt and Wyman say they want their discovery to draw attention to the bee - and to the need to protect it.

The newly rediscovered Wallace's Giant Bee, also called "Raja ofu", or king of bees, has gained widespread media attention. He observed how the bee used its giant mandibles to gather resin and wood for its termite-proof nests.

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.

Bolt and one of his teammates, entomologist Eli Wyman, returned to the USA after making the discovery and hope to work with researchers and conservation groups in Indonesia to ensure protection for the giant bee, Bolt wrote.

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