Researchers in Florida 'shocked' to find ultra rare blue bee thought to possibly be extinct

Researchers in Florida rediscovered a metallic blue bee that was deemed so rare, scientists weren't sure it still existed, according to a report this month.

Chase Kimmel, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History rediscovered the bee on March 9, which was the first time one had been spotted since 2016.

"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 statement said, according to the Naples Daily News. "That behavior is unusual and a unique characteristic of the blue calamintha bee: 'We were pretty shocked to see it.'"

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The blue calamintha bee -- or Osmia calaminthae -- is known for having unusual facial hairs that it uses to collect pollen, the museum wrote in a release. It's especially rare because it collects pollen on its face, and depends on another threatened species -- a blooming plant known as Ashe’s calamint.

“This is a highly specialized and localized bee,” said Kimmel's advisor, Jaret Daniels, director of the museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.

More of the rare bees have been spotted since then, but further research has been impacted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The bee's flight season occurs from about mid-March until early May, which is usually the best time to find the live insects and determine its range, the release added. Unfortunately, some of the state's travel restrictions were implemented during that time period.

“It’s a very time-limited flight. Now is when the bulk of that activity has to take place,” said Daniels. “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.”

The bee is thought to live only in the Lake Wales Ridge region of Central Florida, "a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot and one of the nation’s fastest-disappearing ecosystems," according to a 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report. The ridge is characterized today by patches of pine scrub among the orange groves along U.S. Route 27, according to the release.

Researchers in Florida rediscovered a metallic blue bee that was deemed so rare, scientists weren't sure it still existed, according to a report this month.

Researchers in Florida rediscovered a metallic blue bee that was deemed so rare, scientists weren't sure it still existed, according to a report this month. (The Jha Lab, The University of Texas at Austin)

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The Florida Museum says the bee was first described in 2011. It had only been recorded in four locations at Lake Wales Ridge, prior to this year's rediscovery by Kimmel.

In 2019, Florida's State Wildlife Action Plan listed the insect under the "Species of Greatest Conservation Need."

Kimmel added that his objective over the next year is to record the bee in as many locations as possible to determine its range and increase the understanding of its biology.

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“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,” he said, according to the release.