Australian bee seen for the first time in nearly 100 years

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The first time we saw this bee was 98 years ago. Since then, nothing. So we thought it was extinct… until it was seen again a few weeks ago.

Welcome to the new, Pharohylaeus lactiferus ! This bee species native to the rainforests of eastern Australia had not been seen since 1923. At the time, only six specimens had been collected.

We owe this lovely discovery to James Dorey, who is currently a doctoral student at Flinders University. The latter recently ventured into the rainforests of Queensland and northern New South Wales as part of his thesis on the relationship between ground-nesting bees. Having learned of the possible disappearance of Pharohylaeus lactiferus in this Australian region, he also took the opportunity to conduct his own investigation.

Finally, the entomologist isolated several on three of the 245 sites studied, although there were a few false alarms along the way. “P. lactiferus is part of a group called the masked bees which are relatively hairless and have quite noticeable facial markings“, Explains the researcher. “This makes them easy to distinguish from other bees“.

A close-up portrait of Pharohylaeus lactiferus. The species has been sighted again 98 years after its discovery. Credit: James Dorey

According to the first analyzes of the entomologist, published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, P. lactiferus only evolves on the outskirts of tropical and subtropical forests. In addition, she only interested in the flowers of two trees : Stenocarpus sinuatis, says the tree fire wheel, and Brachychiton acerifolius, a bright red bell-flowering tree.

The researcher also notes that other bees pollinate the same flowers. In addition, if it were to become extinct, the species would not carry these plants with it. Of course, we don’t wish him luck.

Restore natural habitats

As the study points out, the greatest threats to ecosystems and species around the world are habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation. Australia is not spared. More than 40% of its forests and wooded areas have indeed been cleared since European colonization to serve breeding. Over the past 40 years, more than half of all clearing in Australia has taken place in Queensland.

Also, as with all other animal species, the key to saving Lactiferus will be to preserve its habitat and if possible reconnect it so that separate populations can mix their genes.

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