Animals are dying off at a pretty alarming rate, with some studies suggesting the world is entering a sixth major extinction event. But now, in a rare piece of good news from that field, researchers from Australia, Canada and the US have rediscovered Wallace's giant bee, an insect that hasn't been seen in almost 40 years.
Wallace's giant bee, or Megachile pluto, is the largest known bee species in the world, measuring up to 3.8 cm (1.5 in) long and sporting a wingspan of 6.4 cm (2.6 in). That's roughly four times the size of a European honeybee, and if that's not impressive enough it brandishes a pair of huge mandibles like a stag beetle.
Despite being big enough to piggyback other bees by the dozen, Wallace's giant bee has a long history of hiding from human detection. After it was originally discovered in 1858, the bug vanished for well over a century, not being sighted again until 1981. And until now that was the last time it was seen, earning it a spot in the Global Wildlife Conservation's Search for Lost Species program.
Thankfully, now the long search has paid off. A single female specimen of Wallace's giant bee turned up during a recent science expedition to the northern islands of Indonesia. The team, made up of Simon Robson, Glen Chilton, Eli Wyman and Clay Bolt, found the bee on the last day of a five-day search in an area of particular interest.
Because of the giant bee's elusiveness, not a whole lot is really known about it, but what we do know paints an intriguing picture. Females of the species tend to make their nests inside active termite mounds in trees, fighting off the termites with those huge jaws while also collecting tree resin to line the nest.
While it's rare for a species to turn up alive and well after such a long absence, it's not entirely unheard of. The most famous case is that of the coelacanth, a fish species thought to have died out millions of years ago with the dinosaurs, only to resurface in 1938. More recent reappearances include the Lord Howe Island stick insect and a cutesy carnivorous marsupial called the Crest-tailed Mulgara.
The researchers on the new study are now working with local Indonesian conservationists to find more Wallace's giant bees around the island nation, and set up new measures to protect it from disappearing for good.
The long-lost Wallace's giant bee can be seen in the video below.
Source: University of Sydney
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