World’s largest bee, nightmarishly massive, not extinct after all

A massive black bee about the size of an adult's thumb, which was thought to be extinct, was found very much alive in Indonesia during a recent expedition, according to Global Wildlife Conservation.

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The bee, known as Wallace’s giant bee, has a wingspan measuring 2.5 inches and huge mandibles. Scientists last saw the bee alive in 1981, according to natural history and conservation photographer Clay Bolt, who photographed a Wallace’s giant bee in January in the Maluku Islands.

"It was absolutely breathtaking to see this 'flying bulldog' of an insect that we weren't sure existed anymore," Bolt said in a statement from the University of Sydney in Australia.

Bolt was fascinated by Wallace's giant bee, also called "Raja ofu," or king of the bees, and dreamed of seeing the insect with his own eyes after studying an account of the bee from the late 1800s by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, according to a blog he wrote about his expedition on Global Wildlife Conservation's website.

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Although Bolt was fascinated by the bee, Wallace didn’t spend much time on it in his journals.

"But he described the female that a local brought to him as, '…about as long as an adult human's thumb,' and as 'a large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag-beetle,'" Bolt wrote.

“To see such a thing with my own eyes, alive or otherwise, at the time seemed impossible, the distance between my then-home in South Carolina and Indonesia insurmountable,” Bolt said.

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But the expedition, with several other researchers and guides, came together in January, and Bolt and his team found a rare solitary Wallace’s giant bee in a nest in an active termite mound in the Indonesian province of North Maluku.

Credit: Simon Robson

Credit: Simon Robson

Bolt returned home with photos and video of the bee and said he hopes to work with Indonesian researchers and conservation groups to protect the species and maybe return to document its life cycle.

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“But no matter what, just knowing that this bee’s giant wings go thrumming through this ancient Indonesian forest helps me feel that, in a world of so much loss, hope and wonder still do exist,” he said.

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