After nearly four decades, researchers have rediscovered the world’s largest bee which, until now, was believed to be extinct. Called Wallace’s giant bee, this creature is about the size of a human thumb, black in color, and was first discovered in the mid-1850s. Scientists last saw the bee alive in 1981, but that changed recently thanks to a team of researchers in northern Indonesia.
According to the Natural History Museum in London, a team of scientists set out on a mission to locate the giant bee last month, spending five days in an Indonesian rain forest before finding one of the creatures. This was the first time researchers had spied a Wallace’s giant bee (alive) in 38 years, confirming that the particularly huge insect is still around.
When compared to the common honeybee, the Megachile pluto giant bee is four times larger with a black color. The species was first noted in 1859 by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace who was exploring the North Maluku islands in Indonesia at the time. Wallace managed to collected a female giant bee specimen, but the insect would remain relatively mysterious over the following years.
According to the Natural History Museum, the giant bee was once again found in Indonesia in 1981, that time by Adam Messer, an American entomologist. Messer’s work provided scientists with their first behavioral observations of Wallace’s giant bee, finding that they built nests among termites.
As first noted by Wallace, the female giant bees feature unusually big mandibles, and Messer discovered the reason why: these mandibles are used to pluck resin from trees, which is then used to line the inside of the bees’ nests. The resin would harden and keep pesky termites from getting inside.
Scientists set back out to find the bee after a specimen was sold to a collector for more than $9k, followed soon after by another sale for around $4k.