It has been 38 years since the scientists last noticed the insect known as the Giant Bee of Wallace, a rare species found only in a group of Indonesian islands called the North Molluk Islands. With a wingspan of 2.5 inches and a human thumb, he is considered the largest bee in the world and feared extinction.
These fears can now be put to rest. In January, an international team of environmentalists found Megachile Pluto, as it is called the species in the wild. The team has taken the first photos and videos of a live specimen, renewing the hope of survival of the species that is threatened by deforestation.
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The discovery did not come easily. Despite the size of bees, the rarity, distance and nesting habits are difficult to find.
"I personally know about at least five attempts to find the bee," says Clay Bolt, a photographer who was part of the last expedition.
Bees make their homes by digging holes in the nests of the termites that inhabit the trees where they spend most of their time hiding. the highest possible humidity that watches termite nests and chases bees, "said Dr. Robson. All this took five days of hunting for the team to find the "Holy Grail".
Wallace's giant bee was named Alfred Russell Wallace, an English entomologist working with Charles Darwin to formulate the theory of evolution through natural selection. , Wallace first discovered the bee on an expedition in 1859, describing the female as a "big insect with a black ax with huge jaws like a deer beetle." (Men are less than one inch). They seem particularly interested in the bee – he devoted only one line to him in his diary – became a kind of obsession with biologists. The next observation did not occur until 1981, when Adam Meser, an entomologist, watched several people in the wild and came back home with several copies now stored at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Natural History Museum in London and other institutions .
Dr. Messer notes that bees use their unusually large jaws to gather together balls of wood resin and wood to strengthen their nests and that they are relatively lonely animals. Robson believes they are capable of burning, although he was unable to provide evidence. "We were all ready to be stung to see how bad it is," he said, "but since we found only one, we treated it very carefully."
The expedition was partly funded by Global Wildlife Conservation, Texas. non-profit, which in 2017 launched a global search for 25 "lost" species – animals that are not necessarily extinct but have not been spotted for at least a decade. In addition to Wallace's giant bee, the list includes Pink Heading Duck, Fernandina Galapagos and Namdafha.
Conservationists fear that deforestation threatens the survival of bee giants. The Indonesia region, where bees meet, has lost seven percent of its wood cover between 2001 and 2017, according to [Global Forest Watch] .
Excited as they found the bee, Dr. Robson and his team worried that observation could be a mixed blessing. Last year, an anonymous seller sold an unknown copy of an unknown eBay candidate for $ 9,100 previously. "If you can get so much money for an insect, it encourages people to look for them," said Dr. Robson. To help protect bees, the team has agreed not to disclose the exact island they have found.
Now the team has to return to the island and carry out more extensive research, but "this will involve creating links with local scientists in the area and getting permission to go and work with them," said Dr. Robson .