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Rare bee species unmasked after century

- DAVID MILLS

A SPECIES of native bee not seen in nearly 100 years has been rediscover­ed after extensive searches along Australia’s east coast.

The last recorded sighting of pharohylae­us lactiferus, pictured, was in 1923.

But Flinders University PhD candidate James Dorey collected six individual bees in three sites in Queensland – Atherton, Kuranda and Eungella – after sampling 225 individual locations.

One of 202 species of masked bee in Australia, the black-bodied insects, with distinctiv­e white face markings, are slightly smaller than the common European honey bee, and may have a thing for the colour red: they were discovered solely on Illawarra flame trees and firewheels.

“It seems like the bees might be specialist pollinator­s, but we’re not really sure,” Mr Dorey said. “They also seem to be only living in a single habitat type, subtropica­l or tropical rainforest, which is concerning because those forest types have been cleared and become quite fragmented since Europeans arrived.”

While most people associated bees with hives and colonies that operated according to strict social structures, Mr Dorey said almost all masked bees were solitary creatures.

His discovery was published yesterday in the Journal of Hymenopter­a Research.

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