World’s Largest Bee, Thought to Be Extinct, Appears in Indonesia

leafcutting pluto

An international team of researchers set out to rediscover the bee in January 2019.

In 1859, while exploring the remote island of Bacan in the northern Moluccas, Indonesia, renowned naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace made an astonishing discovery: Megachile Pluto, the world’s largest bee.

Wallace described the bee, which is about four times the size of a beelike a “large black wasp-like insect with huge beetle-like mandibles“.

But for more than a century, it was the only known sighting of the Megachile pluton, and some feared that deforestation had wiped out the giant insect.

In 1981, biologist Adam Messer discovered several Megachile nests on Bacan and nearby islands, a sight so rare that locals said they had never seen the nests before. Again, this would be the only known sighting in decades.

Several years ago, Eli Wyman, an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History, and photographer Clay Bolt teamed up to rediscover Wallace’s giant bee. In early 2018, the couple saw that a Megachile specimen had sold for $9,000 on eBay, making it urgent to travel to Indonesia to find the bee.

In January, Clay, Wyman and other researchers finally rediscovered Wallace’s giant bee, this time in a termite mound in a tree.

Clay Bolt, the photographer who captured the first images of the living species, remembers how beautiful and large the species is in life, “hearing the sound of his giant wings buzzing as he flew past my head was just amazing”.

It is now feared the news could spark a frenzy among collectors willing to pay top dollar for rare specimens.

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