Measuring in at four times the size of the average honeybee, Wallace’s giant bee has been on the endangered species radar for decades and was feared to be gone forever. But after 38 years of searching, scientists have confirmed that the world’s largest bee hasn’t gone extinct just yet.

A team of scientists hailing from the United States and Australia discovered a female giant bee on the North Moluccas islands of Indonesia. The bee was uncovered in a termite nest, and the team was able to capture a series of photos of the massive insect, which has somehow evaded extinction all these years. Scientists have yet to determine how many giant bees are in the wild.

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“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘flying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed anymore,” Clay Bolt, one of the team’s photographers, explained.

Man holding vial with a giant bee inside

According to The Guardian, Alfred Russel Wallace, a well-known naturalist and explorer from Britain, discovered the giant bee in 1858. Although it is the world’s largest bee, sightings of the flying insect have been rare, and scientists have had a difficult time unlocking its secrets.

In fact, the giant bee stayed off the radar until 1981, when an American scientist named Adam Messer found three members of the species in Indonesia. The giant bee once again disappeared after Messer’s sightings, and scientists worried that the species had gone extinct. Fortunately, finding the living solo female proves that Wallace’s giant bee is still around, sparking hope that the species will continue to evade extinction in the years to come.

The IUCN currently lists Wallace’s giant bee as vulnerable. Sadly, deforestation in the region is threatening the bee’s natural habitat. Collectors also seek out the giant bee because it is so rare, which has driven numbers down even more. Indonesia has yet to enact legislation that protects the bees from being targeted by humans.

Scientists hope the new sighting will raise awareness about the giant bee and prompt lawmakers to take action to prevent the insect from becoming another endangered species that goes extinct.

Via The Guardian

Images via Clay Bolt