Amazing Facts About the Mysterious Wallace’s King of the Bees

Once thought to be extinct, the Wallace’s Giant Bee was rediscovered in 2019 in Indonesia. It was first discovered and described in 1859 by Alfred Russel Wallace.

Wallace tried to locate it; after its initial introduction to the world, the mysterious Bee has vanished from the surface of the earth, or so they thought.

Almost a century later, the Bee would be rediscovered by an entomologist, Adam Messer, on some remote islands in Indonesia. However, the giant Bee didn’t become widely known until many years later, when it was for the first time caught on camera.

The Wallace’s Bee is believed to be under a serious threat of extinction due to the encroachment of human activities farther into the wild. Sensing the imminent danger faced by this magnificent creature, The Global Wildlife Conservation enlisted it into the 25 “most wanted” species in the world.

Wyman says he could feel the displacement of air as she flew by. “Such an incredible, tangible experience from an animal that had only lived in my imagination for years,” Bolt, Rediscover of the Wallace’s giant bee.

Megachile Pluto: What is the Biggest Bee in the World?

Wallace Giant Bee
Wallace Giant Bee. Image credit: Bee Brained/Tumblr

The Wallace’s Bee belongs to a group of solitary bees – they live their lives alone – they are usually referred to as resin bees. There are numerous other bees that live life in solidarity, but Wallace’s Bee seems to draw the most attention, and for a good reason.

The Wallace’s Bee has taken the record of being the largest Bee known to humanity. The females can grow up to a length of 38mm with a wingspan of 63.5 mm, dwarfing not just the males who only grow to 23mm but also all other bee species. The closest contender to the Wallace bee is the Tropical Carpenter Bee which grows to 35mm in length.

The Rediscovery of The Giant

The species was found in 1859 by Alfred Russel Wallace, a British explorer, and biologist who was a co-discoverer of evolution via natural selection.

Wallace saw and captured a big female bee while staying on the Moluccas’ Bacan Island. ‘A gigantic black wasp-like insect with massive jaws like a stag-beetle,’ he characterized it as.

The specimen was formally characterized as a new wild Bee species by British entomologist Frederick Smith a year later.

Wallace’s huge Bee was thought to be extinct until American researcher Adam Catton Messer spotted it in 1981. He saw numerous enormous bee males and females and established that it was a rare endemic species found only on three North Moluccas islands.

What Does it Look Like?

This group of bees is categorized with other bees in the Megachile family or resin bees.

A striking feature of the Wallace bee is its large mandible jaws. At first sight, they may look very dangerous and capable of inflicting a painful bite.

However, to everyone’s amazement, those powerful-looking jaws are only used for pollination purposes. They possess a white-on-black-striped abdomen that may seem a little odd. Their enormous wings give them an intimidating look, in fact, Clay Bolt – the first man to put the bees on the map – was surprised to find out that they were not as aggressive as other bees he’s worked on in the past.

Is The Wallace’s Giant Bee a Stinger?

At first glance, the Bee may appear to be a ferocious monster showing its intimidating jaws. Surprisingly, the fearsome jaws are not intended to cause harm to humans and other animals or insects. They probably don’t need a stinger as solitary animals with few predators. And if they do sting, then there is no information available on that.

Are Wallace’s Giant bees Dangerous?

Considering that Wallace’s giants are endemic to Indonesia’s remote islands, it is hard to tell if they are dangerous. From Bolt’s account, they did not seem aggressive, neither did they try to sting or defend themselves.

Wallace Giants aren’t carnivorous; they feed on plant material, specifically pollen and nectar, just like any other bee. They also do not live in colonies and have no or very little contact with humans.

Are The Bees found In other Places besides Indonesia?

No. The first discovery of the creature occurred in Indonesia, and the rediscovery also happened in the same region in Indonesia. Like many of its relatives, the giant bees build nests. However, They build their nest within an already established termite structure or nest. They’ve been observed to co-exist with termites and are often thought to have a communal relationship with them.

Do Wallace’s Giant Bee Produce Honey?

Bees are popularly known as creatures that produce sweet Honey, so I wouldn’t blame you if you thought any flying creature with a bee in its name could produce honey.

Although related to bees, they belong to a diverse sub-group of bees that live in isolation. That is, they do not form colonies. Members of the Megachile do not produce honey even though they feed on nectar and pollen.

Like members of their group, the giant Wallace does not make beehives where they deposit honey. Their solitary lifestyle hinders them from gathering the honey in hives like the smaller cousins. However, If they produce anything, it isn’t going to taste good.

How Does its Lifestyle Compare to Other Bees?

The Megachile pluto is famous for being the largest Bee on the planet. Thanks to Alfred Wallace who discovered the creature during his escapades.

Versus The Honey Bee – Apis mellifera

Honey Bee
Honey Bee. Image Credit: Michael Milverton/Unsplash

In comparison with the Giant Bee, the Honey bees, as you know, are social insects and have a completely different lifestyle. According to several studies and research, they dwell in enormous colonies with a single adult queen bee and tens of thousands of female worker bees whose numbers vary with the seasons.

The only Bee that lays eggs is the queen bee. Drones are male honey bees that are only visible during the spring mating season and hatch from unfertilized eggs. The female worker bees, on the other hand, hatch from eggs fertilized by drones.

The Honey bee is loved for its delicious honey “pots” mounted on trees and favorable substrates. The Light brown colored “fly” with golden-yellow colors and brown bands on its abdomen buzzing in the air, mostly in groups up to thousands strong.

Size

The honey bee is almost three times smaller than Wallace’s giant in size compared to the Giant bees. Since there are three different social classes of honey bees, we’d focus on the worker honey bee as it is the most seen. The worker Honey bee is an average-sized bee growing to reach a size of 15mm.

Social Organization

Unlike the mysterious giant Bee, Honey bees have a fascinating social structure. They live together almost as if in society and co-operate to ensure the colony’s survival.

Each member or group of members of the same type have a specific duty that they fulfill diligently until they have lived their life span. Honey bees are also known to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the colony. What remarkable creatures!

Drones

Drones are male bees, the third type of honeybee. Hundreds of drones dwell in each hive throughout the spring and summer, but they are evicted during the winter months when the colony switches into survival mode.

workers

The only bees that most people see are workers. These bees are females who have not yet grown sexually. Workers gather food (pollen and nectar from flowers), construct and guard the hive, clean, circulate air by beating their wings and perform various other social activities.

Queen

The queen’s task is straightforward: she lays the eggs that will hatch the hive’s next generation of bees. In most hives, there is just one queen. If the queen dies, workers will produce a new queen by feeding one of the female larvae an exclusive diet of “royal jelly.”

The worker is able to evolve into a fruitful queen thanks to this elixir. Queens also control the activity of the hive by generating chemicals that direct the conduct of the other bees.

All winter, Honey bees survive on stored honey and pollen and form a ball to preserve heat. During this season, larvae are fed from the stores, and by spring, the hive is buzzing with a new generation of bees.

Also, as you know, they do deliver a painful sting. Compared to the giant Bee, the Honey bee is actually a small creature, growing to reach a size of 15mm.

Is Wallace’s Giant the Only Giant Bee?

Although it has claimed the title of the largest Bee known to man, Wallace’s Bee has many contenders. One of such contenders with an almost similar body size is the Megachile Sculpturallis. It is also referred to as the Giant Resin Bee.

Giant Resin Bee and The Giant Wallace’s Bee are siblings belonging to the same genus, Megachile.

Versus the Giant Resin Bee – Megachile Sculpturallis

Megachile pluto
Megachile Sculptural/ Wikipedia

Megachile sculpturalis is endemic to China, Japan, and a few other eastern Asian countries.

Size And Description

Male Megachile Sculpturalis may reach a body length of around 19–22 mm (0.75–0.87 in), but females are often bigger, reaching about 21–25 mm (0.83–0.98 in).

It is significantly larger than most other leafcutting bees. The body is cylindrical, the jaws are big, and the wings are clear with a brown tint that darkens at the points.

The head and belly are mostly black, with the abdomen being glossy and hairless, and the thorax coated in thick yellowish-brown pubescence.

The abdomen of males is truncated and squared, whereas the abdomen of females is virtually tapered and pointed. The male has four dentate mandibles, whereas the female has four dentate mandibles.

Social Organization

Megachile sculpturalis is a solitary bee that does not establish colonies; nonetheless, females of this species have been observed nesting in the same location as other females (they are gregarious).

Megachile Sculpturalis, like other bees, pollinates a wide range of plant species. These bees are well-known tunnel nesters. They build their nests in tiny slots in tree holes, crevices, dead logs, and other detritus that other bee species may exploit.

Since it is closely related to Wallace’s giant Bee, it’s not a surprise that the big resin bee has a similar lifestyle.

Versus The Asian hornet

Wallace's giant bee
Asian Hornet/ Pixabay

The Asian Hornet is the biggest hornet on the planet. Its natural range includes temperate and tropical East Asia, South Asia, Mainland Southeast Asia, and areas of Russia’s the Far East.

It was also discovered in late 2019 in the Pacific Northwest of North America, with a few more sightings in 2020 and nests discovered in 2021, raising concerns that it might become an invasive species.

It typically feeds on bigger insects, eusocial insect colonies, tree sap, and honey from honey bee colonies.

Size

The Asian giant hornet has a body length of 45 mm (1+34 in), a wingspan of 75 mm (3 in), and a stinger that is 6 mm (14) long and injects a considerable amount of powerful venom. The giant Wallace’s Bee is dwarfed and would even be preyed upon by the vicious hornet compared to the hornet.

Social Organization

Like bees, hornets are also divided into three social classes, unlike the Wallace’s giant which lives a life of solitude.

Queen

Queens are significantly bigger than workers. Queens can grow to be more than 50 mm long (2 in),

Workers

workers range in size from 35 to 40 mm (1+25 to 1+35 in). The reproductive anatomy is the same in both. However, workers do not reproduce.

Drones

Drones are identical to females in appearance and can grow to be 38 millimeters (1+12 in) long, but they lack stingers. This is a common trait of a Hymenoptera.

The hornets have a lifestyle similar to that of bees which in turn are very different from that of Wallace’s giants.

The World’s Largest Bee Shows Itself

Bolt asked Iswan if he would mind going up to have a peek inside, bracing the dying tree. “I saw something move!” he cried as he glanced into the nest.

After gathering his breath, he jumped down, fearful that the thing was a snake—his biggest fear—and reported that it appeared wet and sticky inside. With guarded eagerness, Eli and Bolt exchanged glances. Eli ascended to the top and knew right once that it was a beehive.

The construction was far too flawless and comparable to what they had anticipated. As Bolt ascended, his headlamp caught a glimpse of the most amazing sight he’d ever seen.

They had rediscovered Wallace’s Giant Bee

Bolt, filled with excitement, quickly grabbed his camera. He photographed the insect and recorded video footage after performing a joyful dance.

And one day, I’d like to return to the North Moluccas to document the lifecycle of this spectacular creature in more detail. But no matter what, just knowing that this bee’s giant wings go thrumming through this ancient Indonesian forest helps me feel that, in a world of so much loss, hope and wonder still do exist.- Clay Bolt.

He had accomplished his aim of becoming the first person to photograph a live Wallace’s Giant Bee. Eli, who had dreamed of this day for twice as long, had finally seen a species in the wild that almost no one else had ever seen. We had a great time.

According to Bolt, although little is known about the Bee, it relies on primary lowland forest for resin and tree-dwelling termite nests. Forest degradation for agriculture, on the other hand, is threatening the habitat of this species and many others in Indonesia.

According to Global Forest Watch, Indonesia lost 15% of its forest cover between 2001 and 2017. The team has already begun discussions with Indonesian partners about looking for Wallace’s enormous Bee in other areas, with the goal of eventually collaborating on a strategy to boost the insect’s protection measures.

Summary

It has massive jaws, similar to those of the renowned stag beetle, which distinguishes it from its honey-producing relative. And it lives in burrows in termite mounds, a tubular house it seals with protective resin, rather than in nests with hundreds of family members.

Although little is known about the Bee, it relies on primary lowland forest for resin and tree-dwelling termite nests, according to Mr. Bolt.

On the other hand, forest degradation for agriculture is threatening the habitat of this species and many others in Indonesia.

According to Global Forest Watch, Indonesia lost 15% of its forest cover between 2001 and 2017.

Dr. Robson and Dr. Glen Chilton, an honorary professor at Saint Mary’s University in Canada, collaborated with Princeton University’s Eli Wyman and Clay Bolt, a Montana conservation photographer, to rediscover this Bee successfully.

Global Wildlife Conservation, an Austin, Texas-based organization that operates a Search for Lost Species program, aided the crew. In collaboration with Glen Chilton, Vanessa Dylyn of Matter of Fact Media is producing a documentary film called In Search of the Giant Bee.

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