Bee Species Last Seen A Hundred Years Ago Rediscovered In Australia

Emily Brown


Bee Species Last Seen A Hundred Years Ago Rediscovered In AustraliaJames Dorey Photography/Supplied

A rare species of bee that has been missing for almost 100 years has been rediscovered in Queensland, Australia.

Up until 1923, when the species was last seen, only six Pharohylaeus lactiferus had ever been found.

The bee is native to Queensland, but due to the lack of recent sightings bee experts Olivia Davies and Dr Tobias Smith raised the possibility that it had gone extinct.

A widespread field search was launched in an effort to hunt down any remaining members of the species, and after extensive sampling of 225 general and 20 targeted sampling sites across New South Wales and Queensland the Pharohylaeus lactiferus was discovered.

Writing about the find in The Conversation, researcher James Dorey explained that the ‘pharo’ of ‘Pharohylaeus’ means ‘cloaked’, due to the fact the bees’ first three abdominal segments overlay the others to resemble a cloak.

The researchers also assessed the latest levels of biodiversity, and noted that while the species had always been present in the area, factors such as habitat loss, the fragmentation of Australia’s rainforests, wildfires and climate change would likely contribute to increasing extinction pressure.

Dorey, who discovered the bee, noted that the increased pressure is concerning because the bee is the only Australian species in the Pharohylaeus genus and no information was known about its biology, The Independent reports.

Pharohylaeus lactiferus discovered in QueenslandJames Dorey Photography/Supplied

He explained:

Three populations of P lactiferous were found by sampling bees visiting their favoured plant species along much of the Australian east coast, suggesting population isolation.

My geographical analyses used to explore habitat destruction in the Wet Tropics and Central Mackay Coast bioregions indicate susceptibility of Queensland rainforests and P lactiferus populations to bushfires, particularly in the context of a fragmented landscape.

The researchers, from Flinders University in Adeleide, suggested that the bees’ rarity could be down to the region’s ‘highly fragmented habitat’ alongside the potential specialisation of the species.

The Pharohylaeus lactiferus is made even more vulnerable due to the fact they appear to favour very specific flowers and were only found near tropical or sub-tropical rainforest.

In the future, Dorey suggested that research should aim to increase the ‘understanding of the biology, ecology and population genetics of P lactiferus.’

Pharohylaeus lactiferus discovered in QueenslandJames Dorey Photography

He commented: ‘If we are to understand and protect these wonderful Australian species, we really need to increase biomonitoring and conservation efforts, along with funding for the museum curation and digitisation of their collections and other initiatives.’

Dorey said that researchers cannot definitively say whether or not the bee is threatened, and that to do so would require a ‘robust, extensive and targeted survey regime.’

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Topics: Animals, Australia, Bees, Now, Queensland


The Conversation and 2 others
  1. The Conversation

    Phantom of the forest: after 100 years in hiding, I rediscovered the rare cloaked bee in Australia

  2. The Independent

    Rare bee missing for a century rediscovered in Australia

  3. James Dorey Photography

    James Dorey Photography

Emily Brown
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