The World’s Biggest Bee is Back

After 38 years, the world’s largest bee has been rediscovered, alive and buzzing, among the Indonesian islands known as the North Moluccas. Where exactly? We can’t tell you, because a single specimen can sell for over $9,000, making the world’s largest bee one of the world’s most valuable and vulnerable species.

As you might expect, most insects are not worth the price of a used car. With this in mind, rediscoverer Clay Bolt and his team have done their best to focus the buzz from their report on the bee’s conservation, not location.

Known as Wallace’s giant bee, it’s distinguished by a set of beetle-like protruding jaws and its exceptional size: up to five centimeters from end to end. Females are nearly twice as large as males: reaching about 1.5 inches long with a 2.5-inch wingspan. That makes them five times larger than a typical Western honeybee. You might think such a large bug would be hard to miss, even in the dense lowland forests it calls home, but you’d be wrong. Like most bees, Wallace’s giant bee tends to live alone, and on top of that, it builds tough, tree-resin-lined nests inside active termite mounds, making them far harder to spot than a honey-filled hive hanging from a tree branch overhead.

The bee gets its name from British explorer and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who discovered it on the Indonesian island of Bacan in 1858. When he reported his find, he described the female bee as “a large, black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag beetle”.

After its discovery, the bee was not observed by scientists until 1981, when an American entomologist named Adam Messer found several specimens on three Indonesian islands. Messer would go on to describe the giant bee’s habit of harvesting resin from trees using its giant mandibles.

It took a Clay Bolt and his team six days of searching the islands of Indonesia, recovering ground Messer covered in 1981, to find just one specimen. And over the last 150 years, several research teams have tried to find Wallace’s giant bee and failed. After Messer’s excursion, many believed the species had gone extinct– until two specimens were sold on eBay in 2018. Even though the species is vulnerable to extinction from both poaching and deforestation, there is no law preventing anyone from buying or selling Wallace’s giant bee today.

To learn more about how we’re helping protect our pollinators, visit our friends at PACE.