Huge bee not seen in almost four decades rediscovered in the wild

Huge bee not seen in almost four decades rediscovered in the wild

You might think the world's biggest bee would be easy to find.

The giant bee - the female can measure almost 4cm in length - first became known to science in 1858 when the British explorer and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace discovered it on the tropical Indonesian island of Bacan. With a wingspan of two and a half inches - as long as a human thumb - and four times larger than a European honeybee, Wallace described the female as "a large black wasp-like insect, with vast jaws like a stag-beetle".

The world's largest bee-the Wallace's giant bee or Megachile pluto-has been rediscovered, minding its own beeswax on Indonesian's North Moluccas islands. (Those are the females; males are roughly half that size.) Now, the bee, which has been presumed extinct a couple of times, has been found again in the wild, a conservation group announced today. In just journals, Wallace described the species as "a large, black wasp-like insect, with huge jaws like a stag beetle".

He ventured to the Bacan Islands in Indonesia in 1858 and found the bee with "immense jaws like a stag-beetle". Since then, the species has been lost to science.

About that sound: Touting their discovery, the team posted B-roll (!) video of Wallace's giant bee flying around in a small enclosure, its wings sounding like a deep drone compared to the high-pitched buzz of honey bees.

The team's local guide pointed them in the direction of a termite nest in a tree and noticed something inside moving after shining his phone light into the perfectly round hole in the top. When the bee was last rediscovered in 1981, it had been presumed extinct. Resin keeps termites out of the nest, since the giant bees build nests in termite mounds.

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"I've been saying it's thought to be extinct", said professor Dave Goulson, who heads a bee lab at the University of Sussex.

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"This encourages us to strengthen our search plans to find other turtles, which will allow us to start a breeding program in captivity to recover this species", Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park, explained.

"Messer's rediscovery gave us some insight, but we still know next to nothing about this extraordinary insect", trip member and bee expert Eli Wyman, an entomologist at Princeton University, said.

Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) supported the trip as part of its campaign to track down some of the world's "lost species".

This bee isn't just huge - it's also the word's largest.

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