In the midst of an ever growing list of extinct and endangered bee species, there is a bright spot.

In 2018, for the first time in almost four decades, Megachile Pluto (commonly known as Wallace’s Giant Bee) was sited. Even though this bee was once feared extinct, the individual who found the Wallace’s Giant Bee captured and promptly sold it for $9,100 on Ebay.

The killing and sale of the giant bee sparked outrage, and many feared for these reclusive bees. And then last week, another giant bee was sighted. Thankfully, after photographing this specimen, the individual released the bee alive.

Who is Megachile Pluto?

Discovered in 1858 by Alfred Russel Wallace, as he catalogued the flora and fauna of Indonesia, this bee received a mere one sentence entry in Wallace’s journal. This bee lives on three islands of the Indonesian province of North Moluccas: Bacan, Halmahera and Tidore. Oil palm plantations steadily are replacing the lowland forests where these bees live, leading to an ever increasing reduction of habitat.

Many feared that this bee had become extinct, until it was seen again in 1981. It would be 38 years until the next sighting of Megachile Pluto. And you would know if you saw Wallace’s Giant Bee.

This bee is the largest bee in the world. Females measure approximately  1 ½ inches long with a wing span of 2 ½, while males measure 0.9 inches long. (For comparison, a typical honeybee measures in at approximately ½ inches long.) These giant bees live in active tree-dwelling termite nests. The females have large mandibles, capable of gathering, transporting, and manipulating the plant resins that the bees use to fashion their nests. As with all other species of Megachile bees, Wallace’s Giant Bee feeds on nectar and pollen, and carries pollen in the thick hairs on its ventral surface (abdomen).

Looking to the future

People have seen this bee only a handful of times since its discovery. For that reason, there is no accurate estimates of how many of these bees exist. From a conservation standpoint, Megachile Pluto is a vulnerable species. Entomologists are unsure if the sighting is good or bad from a conservation standpoint. The news coverage the sighting has generated is sure to make more people aware of this reclusive bee. The question is, will people go to these Indonesian islands in search of these bees, or will they be encourage to fight for the preservation of this species. Will they invade its territory, or will they lobby for the preservation of it?

The next time someone sees one of these incredible bees, will they sell it on Ebay, or will the let it be?

Further reading

There are many credible sources of information on Wallace’s Giant Bee. Here are a few.

Aussie Bee Post on Wallace’s Bee

National Geographic article on the sale of Megachile Pluto specimen in 2018

Megachile Pluto Wikipedia article

 

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