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Giant Australian Bee Spotted for First Time in a Century: possibly New Threats



Wallace's giant bee (Megachile pluto), considered to be the largest bee in the world, had not been seen since 1981. . It was thought to be extinct and found in Indonesia.

It was without counting on the tenacity of Eli Wyman, an entomologist and expert on bees, and his colleagues, determined to find it...

Striking Spotter bee

1. Striking bee spotter difficult to observe

Since its discovery, Wallace's bee has only been seen on three Indonesian islands in the Northern Moluccas.

The species, which lives in tropical rainforests, was first described in 1858. 

But naturalists lost sight of it for more than a century, until it was rediscovered in 1981. Since then, no one had observed it, believing it to be extinct.

But in February 2019, an expedition aiming to find unreviewed species manages to locate a nest. 

Wallace's bee is then filmed and the images are impressive to say the least.

Indeed, whether by its imposing size or by the noise it makes when it flies, this large insect imposes some.

And for good reason, the females of this species have a wingspan of 6 cm, four times the size of honeybees. 

They can therefore reach the size of an adult human thumb.

Their mandibles are particularly long, which allows them to collect plant resin to build their nests in trees. 

They also seem to like to nest in termite nests.

As for the males, they are smaller and their head is less wide than that of the females. 

They do not live in the colonies but they are placed in observation near the nest.

Indeed, their objective is to hunt the intruding males but also to catch the females in flight in order to fertilize them.

2. Giant insects used to be common

About 285 million years ago, it was not uncommon to come across giant insects.

The reason ? The concentration of oxygen was higher than today. Indeed, at that time the proportion of oxygen in the air was 35% compared to 21% today.

Thus, there were for example insects that looked like dragonflies but were the size of a crow.

Indeed, they had a wingspan of no less than 70 cm. And let's not even talk about cockroaches then...

3. Generalities about Wallace's bee

Wallace's walnut-sized bee, scientifically known as Megachile pluto, is the largest bee species in the world. It was found in Indonesia.

Professor Simon Robson

About image: Simon Robson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sydney and Central Queensland University in Australia, holds a tube containing one of Wallace's giant bees.

A female of the species was photographed and captured in January in the northern Moluccan islands of Indonesia, the Global Wildlife Conservation Society announced this week.

Females measure up to 63.5 millimeters from wing tip to wing tip (longer than an AA battery) and 38 millimeters from head to tail, but males are smaller.

A small expedition found the bee in its nest, a termite mound in a decaying tree, where it is believed to be rearing its young, said Clay Bolt, an American nature photographer who was part of the expedition.

"This is very good news," he said.

4. An exciting find

The bee was spotted in the first time by Iswan, one of the team's two Indonesian guides, who noticed a termite mound "very round and the size of a giant bee," Bolt wrote in an article about the discovery.

At the team's request, Iswan went up to investigate and quickly jumped when he saw the movement of what he thought was either a snake or a bee.

He was followed by entomologist Eli Wyman of the American Museum of Natural History, who confirmed that the hole certainly looked like the nest of a giant Wallace honeybee.

Bolt then went up and directed his headlamp into the hole.

"I saw the bee's face looking back at me," he said in an interview with CBC News. "It was an amazing moment. »

The team spent two hours waiting for the bee to emerge. Finally, they tapped it gently with a blade of grass "and it came out," Bolt said.

Previously, there had only been two scientific reports on this species.

The first, by Alfred Russell Wallace, the homonym of the bee and entomologist, who independently developed the theory of evolution by natural selection at the same time as Charles Darwin.

And the second observation was made in 1981 by the American entomologist Adam C. Messer, who found six nests in the same group of Indonesian islands.

Even locals said they had never seen the bee when Bolt and the team arrived and started asking questions about it.

Yet there was good reason to believe the bee still existed, as dead specimens had been offered for sale on sites like eBay. One of them sold last March for $11,975.

Bolt was captivated by the bee about four years ago after Wyman showed him a specimen at the American Museum of Natural History while doing background research for a project photographing native bees in North America.

5. An old project is born

A few years ago, Bolt and Wyman successfully lobbied to have the Wallace’s bee, added to the Global Wildlife Conservation Society's "25 Most Wanted Species" list as part of its Search for Lost Species program.

The program aims to find plant and animal species that haven't been spotted in years or decades.

While Bolt and Wyman were discussing a plan to search for the bee, they were contacted by Glen Chilton, an Australian-Canadian ornithologist and writer Professor Emeritus at St. Mary's University in Calgary and Adjunct Professor at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia.

He had written a book on lost species and was planning a bee-hunting trip with James Cook University ecologist Simon Robson.

The four eventually organized the expedition together, but Chilton became very ill after a few days and had to leave Indonesia.

The team found the bee about four days later, but was unable to find any more specimens during the next two weeks.

The bee is the third of the "25 Most Wanted Species" to be reported since the list was published in 2017.

This news follows the announcement earlier this week that the giant tortoise Fernandina was found alive in the Galapagos Islands.

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