Florida’s Long-Lost Blue Bee Has Been Rediscovered

During the coronavirus pandemic, some good news is more than welcome. While we are struggling with the fast-spreading infection, Nature takes its course, and it brings positivity in these dark times for the entire planet.

This time, scientists have been surprised to find a species that was considered to be extinct by many in Florida!

As no one has spotted the extremely rare Blue Calamintha Bee for years, many scientists and conservationists believed that the insect might have gone extinct.

Yet, for the first time since 2016, Dr. Chase Kimmel, a researcher for the Florida Museum of Natural History, has recently found one of the magnificent bees!

While setting traps, on 9th March, Dr. Kimmel, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Florida, and a volunteer spotted the movement of a bee bobbing its head.

Kimmel explained that he “was open to the possibility that we may not find the bee at all so that the first moment when we spotted it in the field was exciting” and they were “pretty shocked” to see it.

Since then, they have found more of the bees, but their research has been curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bee, known as Osmia calaminthae, is known to only inhabit the area of the Lake Wales Ridge and relies on the endangered Ashe’s calamint plant that grows in that region, considered one of America’s fastest disappearing ecosystems.

Together with his advisor Jaret Daniels, Kimmel works hard on his research project to qualify it for protection under the country’s endangered species act.

The ongoing research is funded by a Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission grant through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Although the numbers of bees are declining, this species isn’t considered to be an endangered one, but the 2019 Florida’s State Wildlife Action Plan lists it as a species of “greatest conservation need.”

Apparently, due to the lack of knowledge about these bees, it lacks criteria to include them on the endangered species, even though there was a petition to include the bee in the list in 2015.

Therefore, this project aims to determine the population and distribution, as well as the feeding and nesting habits of the insect. Kimmel said that “in an ideal world, it would be great to look at how management choices impact the plant and the population of this bee.”

Apart from the blue hue, this insect has a unique head-bobbing pattern and facial hairs it uses to collect pollen from the calamint plant.

Also, unlike most bees, the Blue Calamintha lives alone.

Kimmel maintains that “there are good signs the bee can recover,” if it is studied and conserved, and “having this bee in more abundance than what we expected is encouraging for its survival— that it can survive in the long run.”

The Lake Wales Ridge region of Florida is the home of rich biodiversity, mostly because the state was primarily underwater, and the land that appeared above the water eventually created isolated areas for unique species to develop.

Yet, nowadays, these habitats are exposed and vulnerable. Kimmel says:

“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. It puts into perspective how much habitat loss affects all the animals that live in this area.” 

Both Kimmel and Daniels, hope that their project will help to reinvigorate the population of these bees. They are also looking forward to learning more about other plants, animals, and insects in the area.

Kimmel added:

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