The Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto) has not been recorded since 1981. That all changed on Jan. 25, when a group of researchers encountered it in Indonesia. The bee’s common name is no misnomer — with females boasting a length of 1.5 inches and a wingspan of about 2.5 inches, it is about four times larger than the western honey bee (Apis mellifera). Because its natural habitat is shrinking because of mining and quarry activity in the region, however, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified the species as “vulnerable.” Many in the entomology community feared it had gone extinct. First discovered on the Indonesian island of Bocan in 1859, British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace described it as a “large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag-beetle.”
The species had thought to had been extinct once before in the 20th century, until an American researcher named Adam Catton Messer observed it in 1981 on three islands of the North Moluccas, an island group in Indonesia. That was the last time one was seen, however.
Finding it this year was the “Holy Grail” and main purpose behind a week-long expedition in the North Moluccas undertaken by nature photographer Clay Bolt and Princeton University entomologist Eli Wyman in Indonesia. The pair joined forces with Dr. Simon Robson from the University of Sydney, Australia, and Dr. Glen Chilton from Saint Mary’s University, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The team was supported by Global Wildlife Conservation, an Austin, Texas- based organization on behalf of its “Search for Lost Species” program.
According to ScienceDaily.com, a documentary film titled “In Search of the Giant Bee” is currently being produced by Vanessa Dylyn of Matter of Fact Media, in association with Chilton.