World's largest bee feared extinct found after nearly 40 years

Clay Curtis
February 21, 2019

Little is known about the insect, which has a dark body about 1.5 inches in length - four times bigger than European honeybees.

The world's biggest bee has been found after it was thought that the species had become extinct as there has not been a sighting since 1981.

Wallace, who co-developed the theory of evolution with Charles Darwin, described the bee as, "a large black wasp-like insect, with huge jaws like a stag-beetle".

However, scientists finally spotted the rare bee in January, in the Indonesian province of North Maluku on the Maluku Islands.

Scientists are already looking for Wallace's giant bee in other locations; conservationists are also pushing for legal protections for the insect. The female's size has been recorded as at least an inch and a half long, with a tongue that's almost an inch long.

Despite its size, the bee remained elusive, with nearly nothing known about the female's secretive life cycle involving making nests of tree resin inside active arboreal termite mounds.

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"To actually see how lovely 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", Bolt added.

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. 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 insect is named after British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection before Charles Darwin's published contributions. The last time a specimen was spotted was 1981.

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

He found six nests on the island of Bacan and other nearby islands, but the species was lost to science again that same year.

This is the second rediscovery of one of GWC's top 25 most-wanted species in its Search for Lost Species program. "It's just ridiculously large", Simon Robson, a biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia and a member of the expedition, told The New York Times.

A documentary film about Wallace's giant bee is now in production. Pointing a torch into the hole, who did they discover peeking out at them but a single female Wallace's giant bee.

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