Rare blue bee is rediscovered in the USA

blue bee
Florida Museum / Chase Kimmel

Researchers in Florida have rediscovered a “ultra rare” metallic blue calamintha bee thought to be extinct. 

Florida Museum of Natural History researcher Chase Kimmel found a blue calamintha bee on March 9, according to an emailed statement from Kimmel. 

The blue calamintha was first discovered in 2011, but experts weren’t sure it still existed as none had been spotted since 2016.

Kimmel and his advisor, Jaret Daniels, director of the museum's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, set out to determine the current status of the blue bee population, in the hopes of discovering nesting and feeding habits.

“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,” said Kimmel.

An extremely rare species of bee, this creature is metallic navy blue and is thought to only reside in the Lake Wales Ridge region of central Florida. This area is recognised globally as a biodiversity hotspot but is also one that is at risk of disappearing, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report released in 2015.

Kimmel and Daniels are currently working on a two-year research project to determine the blue calamintha bee’s current population status and distribution. As a pollinator, this bee depends on another threatened species, a blooming plant known as Ashe’s calamint.

The researchers say the blue calamintha is a highly specialised and localised species of bee. 

This discovery marks an important step forward for scientists striving to learn more about the blue calamintha bee, which is currently listed in the Florida State Wildlife Action Plan as a “species in greatest need of conservation”.

blue bee
Florida Museum / Chase Kimmel

Characteristics of blue calamintha bees

The blue calamintha is a solitary bee. They create individual nests instead of hives like honeybees. While no nests have been found, the species is part of the genus Osmia, which tends to use existing ground burrows, hollow stems or holes in dead trees as nests.

To test whether the blue bee has similar behaviours, the research team have placed 42 nest boxes, in locations where the blue calamintha bee or Ashe’s calamint have been found. Each box contains reeds and sand pine blocks with holes drilled in varying diameters and depths to reveal the bee’s nesting preferences. Researchers will periodically check the boxes over the next year.

"We are trying to fill many gaps that were not known before. It shows how little we know about the insect community and how there are many discoveries that can still occur," said Kimmel after sighting the rare bee.

Due to the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions the research has faced some setbacks.

Kimmel initially received special permission from the University of Florida to continue working at the station, but the university’s prohibition on further travel prevented Daniels from joining Kimmel in the field.

The timing of the shutdown is also unfortunate as the bee’s flight season from about the middle of March until early May is the best time to find live insects and determine its range.

Despite the challenging times Kimmel and Daniels are hopeful questions about the blue calamintha bee’s interaction with other insects and foraging behaviour can be addressed when normal fieldwork resumes. 

Reference: Florida Museum of Natural History 

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