After 35 years of presumed extinction, Wallace’s Giant Bee has recently been re-discovered in the Moluku islands of Indonesia. Known locally as raja ofu (which translates to “king of the bees”), this veritable giant was last seen in 1981 before its re-discovery by a search team in January of this year. The expedition was funded by the Search for Lost Species program, which works to find and help re-establish vanished species from across the globe.  The bee’s initial disappearance has been connected to loss of its natural lowland forest habitat as well as global insect declines. 

Appearing as a cross between a carpenter bee and stag beetle, raja ofu is the largest of all known bees. With a wingspan nearly the length of your palm and jaws that could double as a nutcracker, its garish appearance would leave many running for the hills.  However, that menacing body might be all for show. Behaving more like a wood nymph than forest titan, they use those gaping jaws to collect tree sap to decorate and protect their nest. They also are apparently good neighbors, as they nest symbiotically within the homes of tree-dwelling termites.

raja_ofu

One of the first images of a living Wallace’s giant bee. Megachile pluto is the world’s largest bee, which is approximately 4x times larger than a European honey bee. (Composite). Photo by Clay Bolt.

In a recent press release from the University of Sydney, Clay Bolt, a wildlife photographer who took the first live footage of raja ofu, stated :

“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘flying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed anymore… [to] see how beautiful and big the species is in real life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it flew past my head, was just incredible.”

With raja ofu’s recent ascent into the lime-light, researchers are hoping to use it as a new poster child for conservation. As part of this effort, a new documentary titled In Search of the Giant Bee is being developed by Matter of Fact Media, which will bring more attention to this rare animal and hopefully inspire greater conservation efforts to maintain its habitat.

See a video of the Wallace’s Giant Bee and the scientists who discovered it below:

 

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