The rediscovery of Wallace’s giant bee uncovers disheartening truths about the tenuous fate of hidden insect species
An artists’s take on the insect
While working as a curatorial assistant at the American Museum of Natural History, Eli Wyman learned about a very unusual bee that was presumed to be extinct. The bee, Megachile pluto, also known as Wallace’s giant bee, is a massive unit. It is the largest bee in the world, four times larger than a honeybee and measuring about the length of a human thumb.
Huge mandibles hang like dastardly garden shears from its head. Or, at least, did — the bee hadn’t been seen alive since 1981 and was feared lost. “I just thought ‘someday I’ve got to go to look for this bee.’ It’s a sort of unicorn in the bee world,” Wyman says. “If you love bees, as I do,” he added, “this is the greatest possible adventure to have.”
In 2019, Wyman teamed up on an expedition with Clay Bolt, a natural history photographer, and two other researchers who had similar ambitions of rediscovering the bee in its last-known stronghold in the Indonesian islands of North Maluku. Plans to take samples of the bee for genetic testing were ditched due to permitting problems, so the team settled on the singular mission of being the first to see the giant in 38 years.