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Alfred Russel Wallace and Wallace’s Giant Bee — In the News

It’s not every day that Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) appears in an article linked by the Drudge Report. Wallace co-discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection, only to break with Darwin over human exceptionalism, becoming a forerunner of intelligent design proponents. 

The headline from CBS News says, “Giant “nightmare bee” that was once thought to be extinct is discovered alive.”

The world’s largest bee is a big, black wasp-like insect as long as an adult’s thumb, and it was extinct — or so scientists thought. The massive bee was rediscovered alive in Indonesia last month, decades after it was last seen.

Wallace’s Giant Bee was named after discoverer Alfred Russell Wallace, who found the massive species in 1958. The last time a specimen was spotted was 1981. In January 2019, a group retraced Wallace’s steps and journeyed to Indonesia to see if they could find the bee. Their long trek paid off.

They found the bee.

Not as Sensational as It Sounds

To say that it looks like something out of a nightmare is not as sensationalistic as that might sound. No offense to this bee, Megachile plutobut it is a bit alarming to look at.

Our colleague Professor Michael Flannery is the authority on Wallace. He comments, “The article, of course, is wrong in saying that Wallace discovered the bee in 1958. It should be 1858.” Oh, right. Good point. More:

It was discovered by Wallace while at Batchian (today the Bachan Islands in the Moluccas, Indonesia). Wallace described it in his notes as having “immense jaws, flying round in mountain forest with loud beetle like hum!!” Wallace’s specimen with tag is in the Hope Entomological Collection, Oxford. Wallace noted in his travel narrative, The Malay Archipelago, that one of his best finds was “a large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stage-beetle, which has been named Megachile pluto by Mr. F. Smith.” John van Wyhe’s excellent annotated edition of The Malay Archipelago notes that F. Smith was Frederick Smith (1805-1879), entomologist of the British Museum. A color photo of Wallace’s Giant Bee is also printed on p. 412. See Alfred Russel Wallace, The Maalay Archipelago, edited by John van Wyhe (Singapore: NUS Press, 2015), p. 477. Because of the valuable annotations, introduction, chronology, and color plate photos, I consider this to be the definitive edition of Wallace’s classic travel narrative. I regard The Malay Archipelago as one of the finest works of this genre in the English language.

Duly noted. Meanwhile, next time I want to see Alfred Wallace featured on the Tucker Carlson program or possibly The View.