The giant bee that sells for almost $10,000 (dead)

This is a very rare, critically endangered, bee species found in Indonesia which is enormous and because of its rarity and size dead specimens can be bought on eBay for upwards of US$10,000.

It is a toxic mix of trade in rare animal species reduced to being sold on eBay. It is very symptomatic of the relationship between humankind and animals. I know I’m being negative but it’s a very negative picture.

Wallace's giant bee

Wallace’s giant bee. Photo: Clay Bolt/AFP/Getty Images.

The first known sample of this impressive creature was collected by a naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace (yes, it is spelt with one l), a contemporary of Charles Darwin in 1858 while exploring Bacan one of Indonesia’s islands. He described the insect as “a large, black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag beetle”.

There was a gap of almost a hundred years until an example was found alive again in 1981. But since then nothing in terms of observing this insect in the wild despite many searches.

Indonesia has been extensively cleared of virgin forest for mining and palm plantations thereby destroying habitat of many species including this bee.

Conservationists were concerned about the possible extinction of the species but they found a specimen in a Dutch museum which had been collected in 1991. And they found two more dead specimens for sale on eBay as mentioned in the first paragraph.

This gave fresh impetus for a conservationist, Clay Bolt, to search for the insect. He mounted an expedition and with an entomologist from Princeton University, Eli Wyman, travelled to North Maluku in January 2019.

The locals had not seen the insect. They felt that they wouldn’t get a result but then on the way home one day they saw a nest which they studied with binoculars. Bolt climbed a tree and using the torch on his smart phone saw something move in a hole. He decided that it was the giant bee.

The species is still extant in the wild and he said that “The living insect was much more impressive than the preserved specimen. It seems bigger and much less frightening and gentler than many would have predicted. The bee does sting but, according to the only report I could find, it doesn’t hurt too much.”

The bee’s scientific name is: Megachile pluto. It’s common name is Wallace’s giant bee.

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