The World Wildlife Fund speculates that at least 10,000 different species go extinct every year. That’s the bad news. The good news? Sometimes we get to update that number downwards by surprise re-appearances. Case in point? The Blue Calamintha Bee.
Found, and quickly lost
Mellitologists — they study bees — first discovered Osmia calaminthae in 2011. They promptly lost track of the Calamintha Bee shortly after discovering it and assumed that it had gone extinct.
Right from the start, it appeared that the Calamintha Bee would have a difficult go of it. They preferred to remain alone, and ate just one Florida plant called Ashe’s Calamint. Unfortunately, Ashe’s Calamint was itself a threatened plant species. When the Calamintha Bee was discovered, environmentalists were concerned enough about its single and shrinking food supply that they quickly sought to preserve its central Florida habitat through various petitions.
Given that no Calamintha Bees had been seen since 2016, it was thought that all hope was lost.
And finally found again
In the spring of 2020, a researcher from the Florida Museum of Natural History visited a forested area where Calamintha Bees had previously been known to live. In fact, that 16-square-mile patch of pine scrub at Lake Wales Ridge is the only place that the Calamintha Bee had ever been seen. Central Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge is a specially recognized “biodiversity hotspot” according to a release from the Museum. They cite a 2015 report from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service describing the Ridge as one of the United States’ fastest-disappearing ecosystems.
That is to say, the hopes of finding any Calamintha Bees in the spring of 2020 were pretty dim. Then, a miracle! Most unexpectedly, a Calamintha Bee was spotted — alive, seemingly back from the brink.
A research project was launched
With a second chance, researchers went all in to try to learn more about the Calamintha Bee. The Florida Museum of Natural History developed a two-year study to understand the bee better. What is known is fascinating, but so much is still unknown. Florida has placed the bee on its Wildlife Action Plan, and the museum’s project will help determine if it should also be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
They’re quirky little creatures
Even though relatively little is known about the Calamintha Bee, there are a few facts that are already known and useful to know:
-They’re metallic blue in color. An adult female is 10 to 11 mm long. That’s a little less than half an inch.
-Mellitologists assume that the Calamintha Bee nests alone, but no one has ever actually seen a nest.
-When in a flower trying to collect pollen, the Calamintha Bee maximizes its collection by a unique head-banging technique. They certainly seem easier to take than some other bees in the news in Spring 2020.
-It’s got a special affinity for the Ashe’s Calamint. The Calamintha Bee has only been seen on any other flower one time.
-The Calamintha Bee flies only during a tiny window every year, from mid-March to mid-May.
Will the COVID-19 pandemic scuttle the project?
That narrow flight season of this bee has complicated the study that the Florida Museum of Natural History undertook in the spring of 2020. Normally a study like this would involve many people out in the field looking closely for the bee — and a never-before-seen nest — but the COVID-19 pandemic has made that much harder. Volunteers initially performed the mapping and sifting through potential Ashe’s Calamint hotspots, but the pandemic put an end to their involvement in the project.
The COVID-19 lockdown has threatened to scuttle the enitre project given the Calamintha Bee’s short flight season, but researchers are persisting. Co-researchers Chase Kimmel (a post-doctoral researcher) and Jaret Daniels (Kimmel’s adviser) from the Florida Museum of Natural History are doing their best to gather data while they still can… just themselves. Kimmel spends his time in the field alone.
It seems fitting somehow, though. One intrepid researcher and one metallic blue solitary bee… alone together against the world. Hard as it is to expect a happy ending, remember that the Calamintha Bee has already come back from the brink once!
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