Researchers Rediscover Ultra-Rare BLUE Bee, Long Thought to Be Lost, in Florida

June 20, 2020 Updated: June 21, 2020

Scientists from the University of Florida have rediscovered a species of bee so rare it was thought to be lost.

The blue calamintha bee was first described in 2011, and it hasn’t been seen since 2016. Initial sightings located the bee in only four places within a 16-square-mile area at Lake Wales Ridge in central Florida, which is a “globally recognized biodiversity hotspot,” according to a press release. The species is highly localized and feeds on the blooming Ashe’s calamint plant, which is endangered.

Among its most remarkable features visually, however, is the bee’s striking blue color.

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(USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory/CC BY 2.0)

On March 9, postdoctoral associate Dr. Chase Kimmel and his adviser, Jaret Daniels, director of McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, were on a bee-finding excursion, setting traps, when they came across the unmistakable bobbing-head movement the blue bees are known for.

“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,” Dr. Kimmel said in the release.

The pollinator’s distinctive head movement is, in fact, the insect transferring pollen from its head to its stomach.

The researchers managed to capture a bee specimen for further examination. So little is known about the species that it has yet to be labeled as “endangered” despite its sparse numbers.

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English: Osmia calaminthae visiting flowers of Calamintha ashei at Lake Placid, Highlands County, Florida. Date 2011 (Tim Lethbridge/CC BY 3.0)

Since their initial discovery, the researchers were able to locate the blue calamintha bee in several locations—good news for the species—some at distances of up to 50 miles apart.

The localized nature of the bee species has to do with the fact that the Florida panhandle was once submerged to a level where it almost acted like island environments with isolated habitats, thus forming pockets of uniquely specialized plants and animals, Daniels said.

“It’s one thing to read about habitat loss and development and another to be driving for 30–40 minutes through miles of orange groves just to get to a really small conservation site,” Kimmel said. “It puts into perspective how much habitat loss affects all the animals that live in this area.”

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Osmia calaminthae, male paratype, lateral habitus (Molly G. Rightmyer, Mark Deyrup, John S. Ascher, Terry Griswold/CC BY 3.0)

With so little known about the rare species, the researchers would like to learn more about its population status and distribution, as well as nesting and feeding habits, and further study could help bring the bee under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

“We’re trying to fill in a lot of gaps that were not previously known,” he said. “It shows how little we know about the insect community and how there’s a lot of neat discoveries that can still occur.”

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