The World's Biggest Bee Has Been Found for the First Time Since 1981

Feb 21 2019 -- 9:25 AM

For decades, scientists thought that Wallace's giant bee had gone extinct. The bee was the largest in the world, the size of a large human thumb and roughly four times the girth of an average honeybee. The last time anyone spotted one was in 1981. Until now.

Another giant bee was found last month in North Moluccas, an island in Indonesia. Simon Robson, a professor of biology at the University of Sydney, and his colleagues found her on a termite's mound while exploring the island.“We ran around cheering and shouting and hugging each other,” Robson told New Scientist. “After all these years, and all the people who tried to find it, it was still alive.” 

Their excitement was well warranted. Wallace's Giant Bee, or Megachile pluto, has been a much sought-after species for years. The Global Wildlife Conservation included it on its “25 most wanted” lost species list in 2017, and scientists and nature photographers have led many expeditions looking for it. According to Earther, Robson, entomologist Eli Wyman, and the rest of the team spent a week in North Moluccas looking for the insect. When they finally found one, they trapped her in a tube, took photos documenting their discovery, and then put her back in her home. 

Wallace's giant bee gets its name from Alfred Russell Wallace, an English entomologist who discovered the species in Indonesia in 1858. The bee wasn't spotted by Westerners again until entomologist Adam Messer found one in 1981.

Nature photographer Clay Bolt, who photographed the bee on the most recent trip—the first time a live Wallace's giant bee has ever been photographed—told Earther the next steps are to work with Indonesian conservationists to set up protection for the species so they can continue living their giant, happy, beehemoth lives.

Images: Paramount Pictures