Bee-zarre! World's Largest Bee 'Lost To Science' For 38 Years Found Alive

With an estimated wingspan of two and a half inches, Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto) is the world’s largest bee.

Despite its conspicuous size, the bee has been lost to science since 1981. Until now.

In January, a search team that set out to find and photograph Wallace's giant bee successfully rediscovered the species—considered the “holy grail” of bees—in the Indonesian islands known as the North Moluccas, resurrecting hope that more of the region’s forests still harbour this species.

Megachile pluto is the world's largest bee, which is approximately four times larger than a European honeybee. Image: Global Wildlife Conservation / Clay Bolt

This is the second rediscovery of one of Global Wildlife Conservation’s top 25 most wanted species in its Search for Lost Species program.

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“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,” said Clay Bolt, a natural history photographer specialising in bees, who took the first photos and video of the species alive after spending years researching the right habitat type with trip partner, Eli Wyman.

The giant bee compared to a European honeybee. Photo: Clay Bolt.

“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.

"My dream is to now use this rediscovery to elevate this bee to a symbol of conservation in this part of Indonesia, and a point of pride for the locals there.”

The bee was found in active termite mounds in the North Moluccas, Indonesia. Image: Global Wildlife Conservation / Clay Bolt

The female giant bee makes her nest in active arboreal termite mounds, using her large mandibles to collect sticky tree resin to line the nest and protect it from invading termites.

In hot and humid conditions, and sometimes during torrential downpours, the team observed dozens of termite mounds over the course of the search.

It wasn’t until the last day of a five-day stop in an area of interest that the team — which also included Simon Robson, professor of biology at the University of Sydney and Central Queensland University, and Glen Chilton, a professor at Saint Mary’s University in Canada — found a single female Wallace’s giant bee living in an arboreal termites’ nest in a tree, about eight feet off the ground.

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