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After 38 years off the grid, the world’s largest bee is back in the light

It is said that bees provide every third bite of food in the human diet.

A popular quote attributed to Albert Einstein states: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

The honey bee plays a vital role in the survival of humans.

There are about 20,000 species of bees present in the world. Most people only know about the fuzzy bumble bee, the honey foraging honey bee or even the scary stinging wasp (not in the bee family).

It’s hard to keep up with one type of bee species let alone 20,000, yet much to scientists’ surprise, the world’s largest bee, thought to have been extinct for almost 40 years, was suddenly found alive and well in Indonesia in late February.

This newly found bee, called Wallace’s giant bee, is four times larger than the average European honey bee. It measures up to 1.5 inches long and even has a pair of huge mandibles, or “pinchers,” like that of a stag beetle.

Unlike other bees, the Wallace’s giant bee uses its mandibles and burrows within termite nests to raise their young.

“It’s a type of carpenter bee,” explained ORU’s very own Entomologist, Dr. Hal Reed. “It’s a solitary bee. Solitary bees will make a series of individual nests and put their larva in it. Many might be in the termite mound but they’re not cooperating in a social sense. They’re not like our social bees,  the honey bees or the bumble bees.”

The Wallace’s giant bee was originally discovered in 1858, then disappeared for over a century until it was found again in 1981.

After being put on the Global Wildlife Conservation’s Search for Lost Species program, people have been keeping a special lookout for this giant bee. On a recent expedition in the northern islands of Indonesia, a special team of four found the lost bee.

“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this flying bulldog of an insect that we weren’t sure existed anymore,” said Clay Bolt, a natural history photographer who specializes in bees.

So if you ever get the chance to face a Wallace’s giant bee, ask it, “Ya like jazz?”

Photo courtesy of Clay Bolt