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.
“It was breathtaking to see this” flying bulldog “”, commented in a statement by Global Wildlife Conservation naturalist photographer Clay Bolt who found a natural hive in the rainforest of a North Maluku island.
“To see how big and beautiful this species is, to hear the sound of its giant wings (…) was incredible,” he added.
This “megachile pluto”, whose female can reach nearly 4 cm long and more than 6cm wingspan, four times larger than the honey bee, was discovered by the British Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858.
More than a century later, in 1981, it had been rediscovered on three islands of the Northern Maluku Islands by an entomologist.
“I hope this rediscovery will trigger new research that will help us better understand and protect this unique bee,” said Eli Wyman, an entomologist from 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.
Scientists know, however, that she makes hives in termite mounds in trees, using resin harvested with her mandibles to protect her colony from termites.