A team of conservationists and researchers have rediscovered the Megachile pluto, commonly referred to as Wallace’s giant bee, in Indonesia. This is the first time the species has been spotted since 1981.
Roughly the size of a human thumb, the Wallace’s giant bee is the largest known species of bee. Female specimens can reach a length of 3.8 centimetres (cm) and have a wingspan of over six cm. Males grow to about 2.3 cm.
The team found the insect in the archipelago’s North Moluccas islands last month. On Thursday, they released images and a video of a nest and its queen. They termed their discovery the “holy grail” of species discoveries.
“Amid such a well-documented global decline in insect diversity, it’s wonderful to discover that this iconic species is still hanging on,” said Simon Robson, a member of the team and professor at the University of Sydney.
The species was first discovered in 1858 by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Since 1981, there have been several expeditions to known Megachile pluto habitats. However, despite its size, the bee had not been spotted until now. The discovery has reignited hope that the region’s forests may be host to more specimens of the rare species.
“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘flying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed any more,” said Clay Bolt, a natural history photographer, who took the first photos and video of the giant bees alive.
“To see how beautiful and big the species is in real life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it flew past my head, was just incredible,” Bolt said. “My dream is to now use this rediscovery to elevate this bee to a symbol of conservation in this part of Indonesia.”
Global Wildlife Conservation, a Texas-based non-profit organisation that runs a Search for Lost Species programme, put Wallace’s giant bee on its list of the “top 25 most-wanted lost species”.
Destruction of Indonesian forests for agriculture has threatened the habitat of a number of different species, including the Megachile pluto.