JAKARTA – A conservation expedition has rediscovered Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto), the world’s largest bee, in Indonesia’s North Moluccas islands, marking the first scientific documentation of the species since 1981.
“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘flying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed anymore, to have real proof right there in front of us in the wild,” Clay Bolt, a natural history photographer specializing in bees, said in a statement on Thursday.
“To actually see how beautiful and big the species is in life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it flew past my head, was just incredible,” said Bolt, becoming the first photographer to take photos and videos of the species alive.
The expedition, which also consisted of three biologists and two Indonesian guides, visited various parts of northeastern Indonesia in January in search of the insect, of which not much is known due to its remote habitat.
Wallace’s giant bee has a wingspan of 2.5 inches, has large jaws (mandibles) and nests inside active termite mounds in trees.
It was named after British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who documented its existence for the first time in 1858.
The discovery is part of an initiative by United States-based nonprofit Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) to find 25 species not sighted in the wild in the last few decades – in some cases even a century – such as the Pondicherry shark or the Voeltzkow chameleon.
The organization has warned that the habitat of the rare bee is under threat due to the rapid deforestation of Indonesia, a country which lost around 24 million hectares (59 million acres) of tropical forest between 1990 and 2015, according to official data.
“The bee’s protection moving forward is going to rely first on the appropriate government officials and stakeholders knowing that the bee even exists, and then their willingness to help protect it,” Robin Moore, GWC’s senior director of digital content and media and Search for Lost Species project lead, said in a statement.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies Wallace’s giant bee as a vulnerable species, without offering an estimate of the existing number of specimen.
Indonesia is home to hundreds of species endangered by industrial and agricultural development, such as the orangutan, the Sumatra tiger and the Jawan rhinoceros.