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This Massive, Nightmare Bee Was Once Thought Extinct. Not Anymore.

However, scientists finally spotted the rare bee in January, in the Indonesian province of North Maluku on the Maluku Islands. They detected a solitary female bee after investigating the region for five days, and a photographer captured the first-ever images of a living Wallace's Giant Bee (Megachile pluto) at the insect's nest in an active termite mound.

"It was absolutely breathtaking to see this 'flying bulldog' of an insect that we weren't sure existed anymore," photographer Clay Bolt, who captured the images of the giant, said in a statement published by The University of Sydney in Australia. [In Photos: Bee Eyes and Meat-Eating Plants Light Up Micro-Photo Contest]

Little is known about these elusive insects' habits. The bees' dark-colored bodies measure about 1.5 inches (3.5 cm) in length — about as long as a human thumb — and they build communal nests on termite dwellings in trees, Adam Messer, a researcher who was with the Department of Entomology at the University of Georgia in 1984, wrote in a study published then in the Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society.

Messer was the last scientist to document the supersize bees in the wild — until now.

One of the first images of a living Wallace's Giant Bee, Megachile pluto. The world's largest bee M. pluto is about four times larger than a European honeybee. (Image credit: Copyright Clay Bolt)

"Messer's rediscovery gave us some insight, but we still know next to nothing about this extraordinary insect," Eli Wyman, an entomologist at Princeton University and one of the researchers who rediscovered the lost bee, said in the statement. The rediscovery could help researchers learn more about the elusive bee, Wyman added.

Originally published on Live Science.

Mindy Weisberger
Mindy Weisberger

Mindy Weisberger is a Live Science senior writer covering a general beat that includes climate change, paleontology, weird animal behavior, and space. Mindy holds an M.F.A. in Film from Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.