Bees around the world are facing extinction, but one rare, metallic blue bee species thought to be possibly extinct has reappeared in Florida.
Chase Kimmel, researcher at Florida Museum of Natural History, was shocked and delighted when he discovered an ultra-rare blue calamintha bee on March 9. This species of bee is unique to Florida and had previously only been spotted in four locations in southern Lake Wales Ridge in Highlands County, Florida.
“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,” Kimmel said in a news release.
The blue calamintha bee was last seen in 2016, so researchers were unsure if it still existed. Since finding the rare bee, Kimmel has joined with his adviser, Jaret Daniels, to conduct a two-year study to discover the current population, habitat, feeding habits, and risks to the species.
The species is currently categorized as critically imperiled, but the research will determine if the bee species qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Researchers are working on preserving the species but it faces the same threats as other bees. Their habitat is quickly disappearing due to deforestation and development, while its food supply is dwindling as well. The blue bee feeds solely on a blooming plant that is also rare and threatened, Ashe’s calamint.
“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.”
Aside from its unique coloring, the blue calamintha bee has unique facial hairs that it uses to collect pollen. “We observed a shiny little blue bee grabbing an Ashe’s Calamint flower, and rubbing its head on the top portion of the flower 2-3 times,” Kimmel’s said in a statement. The unusual behavior is characteristic of the species. “We were pretty shocked to see it.”
The blue calamintha bee, unlike the honeybee, is a solitary bee. They prefer to live in individual nests over hives. The team has placed 42 nests around the area the bee was spotted and in areas where Ashe’s calamint grows. Kimmel has since spotted more of the elusive bees but says it sometimes takes hours or days to spot one.
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Kimmel is currently living in a remote area of the state to study the species and due to the global pandemic is working alone, just like the bees.
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