Rare Blue Bees Back From The Dead As Species Prove Not Extinct In Florida

FLORIDA MUSEUM PHOTO BY CHASE KIMMEL

Rachael Funnell 15 May 2020, 16:48

A rare bit of good news (just in time for Endangered Species Day) saw a rare species of blue bee “back from the dead” as it was spotted in Florida this spring for the first time since 2016. Researchers say the blue calamintha bee, Osmia calaminthae, was believed to have gone extinct shortly after they were first discovered in 2011 but the new sightings have stoked hopes that it might be possible to bring them back from the brink.

The solitary bees are known to nest alone and have a rather choosey diet, feeding on Ashe’s Calamint, which is unfortunately also threatened as a plant species and found only in Florida. Efforts were made to protect the bee when it was first discovered with petitions to protect their threatened habitat in central Florida, but just five years later they seemingly disappeared.

This blue bee specimen was collected in 2002 in Placid Lakes and is one of five specimens at the Florida State Collection of Arthropods in Gainesville. Florida Museum photo by Chase Kimmel

Researcher Chase Kimmel, from the Florida Museum of Natural History, returned to the patch of pine forest previously inhabited by the bees this spring, with no great hopes of finding any evidence of the species. “I was open to the possibility that we may not find the bee at all,” Kimmel said in a release from the museum. “When we spotted it in the field it was really exciting.”

In light of the exciting comeback, the museum has launched a two-year study to get a better idea of the bee's current population status, and we have much to learn about the elusive insect’s behaviors. Researchers believe the bees nest alone though, despite them only coming from one small patch of forest, no nests have ever been discovered. They’re also known to practice a sort of head-banging behavior when in flowers, which helps them to collect as much pollen as possible on their hairy heads. Rock n’ roll, baby.

After capturing a bee, researchers place it in a plastic bag with a hole to photograph its head before releasing it. Pollen left in the bag is analyzed to determine which flowers the bee visited. Florida Museum photo by Chase Kimmel

“We’re trying to fill in a lot of gaps that were not previously known,” Kimmel said. “There’s a lot of neat discoveries that can still occur.”

Kimmel, alongside his co-researcher Jaret Daniels, are attempting to continue their studies to the best of their abilities without breaching the current Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Unfortunately, the bee exhibits a short flight season from around mid-March to mid-May meaning the research can’t wait if they’re to have any chance of finding live individuals.

“It’s a very time-limited flight. Now is when the bulk of that activity has to take place,” Daniels explained. “Chase is doing a fantastic job and we’re getting a lot of great data, but if it wasn’t for the Covid-19 virus we would have had more people in the field, so it has definitely scaled back what we’re able to do.”

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