World's Largest Bee Rediscovered After 38 Years

Wallace's giant bee has a wingspan of 63 millimeters and a length of 39 millimeters. In contrast, the smallest bee in existence is only 1.8 millimetres long.
World's Largest Bee Rediscovered After 38 Years

Last update: 02 August, 2022

In 1858, Alfred Russel Wallace found a beautiful bee that had never been seen before in the jungles of Indonesia. This would be the first and last time this specimen would be seen for more than a century. This species was named Wallace’s giant bee in tribute to this famous naturalist of the time. Find out about the world’s largest bee in today’s article.

This hymenopteran is considered the largest bee in the world, as its size far exceeds that of other specimens. It disappeared for several years and it was feared to be extinct. However, thanks to a campaign that sought to rediscover this and other “lost” species, it could be seen alive again. Keep reading to discover the story behind this magnificent insect.

Wallace and his giant bee

Alfred Russel Wallace was a naturalist who, along with Charles Darwin, stood out for founding the basis of natural selection. Like Darwin, Wallace undertook a trip in 1854 to the Malay Archipelago, where he discovered several incredible animals. He described them meticulously and began to publish all his findings. By 1862, he already had more than 50 articles as well as copious notes.

Near the end of his trip (1858), Wallace mentioned in just a few words the discovery of a hairy and giant black bee. It was as big as a human finger and had jaws similar to those of the stag beetle. At that time it wasn’t known how important this discovery would be, as it was only part of the nearly 1000 new species he described on his own.

A little more than a year after the discovery, Wallace sent the specimen he had found to entomologist Frederick Smith for further analysis. In 1960, an article was published specifying the characteristics of the bee and it received the scientific name Megachile pluto. It was also recognized as the largest species of the Apidae family ever found.

From this point in history, the world’s largest bee wasn’t seen again for over 100 years. In fact, it was thought to be extinct because the forests near its area of discovery were being cut down.

Rediscovery of the lost species

In 1981, the American biologist Adam Catton Messer rediscovered the species again, and this time it was photographed for the first time. The specimens were found on 3 Indonesian islands: Bacan, Halmahera and Tidore. In addition, it was discovered that they use the colonies of certain termites to form their nests, as their huge jaws allow them to “scrape” the hollow of the trunks and build with their resin.

This strange behavior explains the physical resemblance that the species has with the stag beetle. It was also discovered that the reason the bee hadn’t been found again was that we did know that they built their nests inside wood.

The only problem is that, despite all these advances in the description of the species, it disappeared again for a further 38 years. However, some non-profit organizations started a movement to find this and other lost beings again.

Most wanted species

In 2017, the non-profit organization called Global Wildlife Conservation published a list of the 25 missing species. Among them was the world’s largest bee, which had been evading scientists for more than a century. The goal was clear: to locate this insect and prove that it wasn’t extinct.

This campaign had focused its efforts on rediscovering these 25 famous species, which was already beginning to pay off with the discovery of Jackson’s salamander. For this reason, expectations were high that the missing animals would also be found.

The formal search for this giant bee began in late January 2019 with an expedition to Ternate Island in Indonesia. The group that had organized the trip consisted of Glen Chilton, Simon Robson, Eli Wyman, and Clay Bolt, who hoped to find the lost species. However, as the days passed they realized that this task wasn’t going to be easy.

The trip was coming to an end and the group had found no trace of this hymenopteran. However, during the last day of their search, and just as they were about to give up, they found a small termite nest. They had little expectation that the log actually contained what they were looking for, as it wasn’t the first one they had seen on their journey.

As they got closer, the researchers noticed that the interior was very well delimited and rounded. There was also a sticky liquid substance at the bottom of the nest. When they least expected it, a huge black bee emerged from the trunk, which was identical to Wallace’s bee. They were elated because they had managed to rediscover this enigmatic lost species.

This moment didn’t only remain in the memory of the members of the group, but also photographs and videos were taken to support this great event. So, after 38 years missing, the world’s largest bee has been rediscovered (again).

Not everything is good news

Although this news should be a reason for naturalists to celebrate, it actually causes them fear and concern. This is because insects are one of the most endangered groups due to habitat loss and pollution, so it’s believed that this bee may be at imminent risk.

In fact, two specimens of the world’s largest bee had been sold over the internet in 2018. The price was $9100 for the first one, while $4150 was paid for the second one. Despite being a species that could be close to extinction, these types of sales are legal.

The reason for this is that the species has no current protection to prevent trade.

As you can see, finding this species is only the first step, as attention also needs to be paid to its conservation. Even so, this is encouraging for naturalists and one more sign that we’ve still got time to save several species from suffering extinction.

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  • Frederick Smith (1860). Catalogue of Hymenopterous Insects collected by Mr. A. R. Wallace in the Islands of Bachian, Kaisaa, Amboyna, Gilolo, and at Dory in New Guinea.. , 5(Supplement s1), 93–143.
  • Vereecken, N. J. (2018). Wallace’s Giant Bee for sale: implications for trade regulation and conservation. Journal of Insect Conservation, 22(5), 807-811.
  • Messer, A. C. (1984). Chalicodoma pluto: the world’s largest bee rediscovered living communally in termite nests (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, 165-168.
  • Gallardo, M. H. (2013). Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913): obra y figura. Revista chilena de historia natural, 86(3), 241-250.
  • Bolt, C. (2019) Rediscovering Wallace’s Giant Bee. Recuperado el 12 de diciembre de 2021, disponible en: