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How to find the world’s biggest bee

By David, 28 February 2019 News

Image of a giant bee and a smaller honey bee.

Wallace’s giant bee is a lot bigger than a regular honey bee. Image: © Clay Bolt : claybolt.com

As long as a thumb and with a six-centimetre wingspan, you’d think it would be hard to miss Wallace’s giant bee. Alfred Wallace – a biologist who, at the same time as Charles Darwin, also came up with the theory of evolution through natural selection – wrote about it way back in 1858. But since then, this gigantic buzzer has been almost impossible to find. One expedition spotted them in 1981, but there have been no more recorded sightings of the largest bee in the world. That is, until now.

Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto) holds a fascination for many insect enthusiasts. In fact, two different groups of scientists and conservationists were planning their own searches. When they found out about each other, they decided to join forces and make one international expedition.

The giant bees have only ever been spotted on a few remote islands in Indonesia. They make their nests up in the trees, inside active termite nests.

So to spot one of the bees, you need to go to the right group of islands in Indonesia, find a termite nest in a tree, and then climb up to take a close look. It might take 20 minutes of looking at a nest to be sure that no-one’s home.

The team spent five days searching and found all kinds of wonderful insects, but not the bees they were looking for. They were tired, sick, and thinking of home when they finally noticed a termite mound with a very round hole, just the right size for a gigantic bee. The inside of the nest looked wet and sticky, and something was moving inside. One of the researchers grabbed a head torch and confirmed what they had all hoped. They had rediscovered the world’s largest bee.

There’s plenty more to learn about Wallace’s giant bee. The team are already talking to local Indonesian experts to look for bees on other islands. It’s the first step in protecting these beautiful, buzzing titans.

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3 comments

  1. Wow

      Reply
  2. Those look like quite formidable “pincers” on the front. Does it sting or bite?

      Reply
    1. Maybe both! From ABC:(https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2019-02-22/bee-giant-wallaces-rediscovered-indonesia/10830224)
      It doesn’t die after stinging, according to Dr Robson.
      “This bee could probably sting you quite happily and then sting you again, it wouldn’t kill it,” he said.
      “In fact, if we’d found more we were very keen to get stung by it to see how painful it was. But because we only found one we didn’t want to annoy it and we didn’t want to upset it.”
      Wallace’s giant bee also has a large set of pincers called mandibles on its head, which Dr Robson said could probably “do a bit of damage”.

      The jaws, while scary, are useful tools. From the Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megachile_pluto):
      The bee’s large jaws assist in resin gathering: the female makes large balls of resin which are held between the jaws.
      All in all, it’s a pretty amazing critter.

        Reply

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