Researcher Rediscovers Rare Australian Bee That Science Thought Was Extinct

March 5, 2021 Updated: March 9, 2021

A rare species of bee unique to Australia has been rediscovered by a researcher in Queensland. The species has not been seen since 1923 and was thought to be extinct.

Known as Pharohylaeus lactiferous, the bee is the only species in the genus Pharohylaeus. A total of only six have been spotted before in Australia, and nothing was known about its biology.

James Dorey, a doctoral candidate at Flinders University, recently rediscovered it after an extensive sampling of 225 general and 20 targeted sampling sites in New South Wales and Queensland.

Dorey’s survey identified three geographically isolated populations of the bees along the eastern coast of Australia; all live in tropical and subtropical rainforest. He also indicated that the bees are strongly dependent on two plants, Firewheel trees (Stenocarpus sinuatus) and Illawarra flame trees (Brachychiton acerifolius).

Epoch Times Photo
An A oblique and B dorsal photo of a female and an C oblique photo of a male Pharohylaeus lactiferus. (Image credit: James Dorey)

Despite the rediscovery, the conservation of Pharohylaeus lactiferous’ habitat remains key for the bees’ survival. The research indicated that among the reasons for the rarity of the species are habitat destruction and fragmentation, as well as the bee’s floral-and-habitat-specialization.

“Where these bees have been found, that rainforest type has undergone habitat destruction and fragmentation,” Dorey told Live Science. “This means that there is less of this habitat available,” and it’s “harder for [the bees] to move between what’s left.”

The study pointed out that future research about Pharohylaeus lactiferous should focus on increasing people’s understanding of the species’ biology, ecology, and population genetics.

Before going to Flinders University, James Dorey finished a bachelor of science in ecology and zoology at The University of Queensland.

“I’m driven by my love of nature,” he said on his personal website. “I believe that this love was first instilled in me when growing up surrounded by the rainforest that my father planted around our house.”

Although not particularly interested in insects initially, Dorey’s perspective completely changed after he bought a second hand 100mm macro lens for his camera.

“So this is my mission, I want to be able to provide you with the means to share your passion for nature. Particularly, yet no limited to the tiny and unseen. I want to share my passion for nature.”