(TMU) – Insect scientists in Florida are abuzz after an incredibly rare blue bee, long believed to be extinct, was discovered to actually be thriving in the central part of the state.
The researchers say that the blue calamintha bee (Osmia calaminthae), which was discovered in 2011 before being pronounced to have gone extinct a few years later, may possibly be saved as a species after it was discovered near Lake Wales Ridge in central Florida, a highly threatened ecosystem which is recognized around the world as a major hub of biodiversity.
The brilliant blue calamintha bees tend to nest alone and feed on the endangered Ashe’s Calamint plant, a pale lavender-colored perennial deciduous shrub that is found only in Florida.
The bee was rediscovered after researcher Dr. Chase Kimmel returned to the forest on March 9 where the bees were originally discovered in hopes to see if it was still alive.
In a release from the Florida Museum of Natural History, where Kimmel is currently conducting his post-doctoral research, he said:
“I was open to the possibility that we may not find the bee at all so that first moment when we spotted it in the field was really exciting.”
#Florida’s rare blue calamintha bee was feared extinct until researchers in @jcdaniels lab rediscovered the species this spring in Lake Wales Ridge. Look how BLUE! #DaBaDeeDaBaDie ???? #UFBugs
Story: https://t.co/PnSuDJoX4O pic.twitter.com/ju4iQrBloQ
— Florida Museum (@FloridaMuseum) May 7, 2020
Researchers from the museum have launched a two-year study to find out what the blue calamintha bee’s current population status and distribution is, as well as its nesting and feeding habits.
While they do know that the solitary blue bee nests alone, they haven’t yet actually stumbled across any of its nests. They do know, however, that the pollinator bobs its head on the blooming Ashe’s calamint plant to collect pollen using its tiny hairs.
The bee is considered a hyper-local creature that evolved in the isolated sand dune patches lying along the 150-mile ridge running south to north in central Florida.
Kimmel’s adviser, Jaret Daniels, said:
“This is a highly specialized and localized bee.”
— Auriette (@Auriette) May 12, 2020
Experts consider the bee to be a “species of greatest conservation need,” but it hasn’t yet been listed as threatened or endangered. While activists tried to include it in the endangered species list through a petition launched in 2015, the bee did not qualify for the listing because so little information was known about the species.
Kimmel and Daniels hope that their research about the elusive insect can bear interesting results. At present, basic biological facts about the bee are unknown, including whether the blue calamintha prefers sun or shade. Kimmel said:
“We’re trying to fill in a lot of gaps that were not previously known. There’s a lot of neat discoveries that can still occur.”
The researchers are hoping that they can continue monitoring the bee over the next year in spite of the challenging conditions resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Since the early spring season, when he first found the rare pollinator, he’s struggled to locate another blue calamintha bee specimen. Kimmel said:
“I haven’t found the bee in a couple of weeks,” Kimmel told Weather.com, adding “I’m coming up a bit short right now.” He believes that this may be due to the dry Spring season coming to an early end.
The two researchers are doing their best to work through the COVID-19 lockdowns so they can monitor the bee over the next year.
Either way, Kimmel believes that there are “good signs the bee can recover,” especially if their research is successful and paves the way for conservation efforts. Kimmel said:
“Having this bee in more abundance than we expected is really encouraging for its survival — that it can survive in the long run.”
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