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World’s biggest bee spotted alive for the first time in decades

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A walnut-sized bee with a massive jaw and impressive wingspan has been spotted for the first time in nearly 38 years.

Wallace’s Giant Bee, known by the scientific name Megachile pluto, is the world’s largest bee species — and now we know it actually still exists.

Females measure up to 63.5 millimetres from wing tip to wing tip (longer than a AA battery) and 38 millimetres from head to tail, although males are smaller.

A female of the species was photographed and captured on video in the North Moluccas islands of Indonesia in January, the Global Wildlife Conservation Society announced this week.

A small expedition found the bee in her nest in a termite mound up in a rotting tree, where it’s thought she was raising her young, said Clay Bolt, an American nature photographer who was on the expedition.

“It’s very good news,” he said.

Natural history photographer Clay Bolt takes the first ever photos of a living Wallace’s giant bee at its nest, which is found in an termite mound in the North Moluccas, Indonesia. (Simon Robson)

The bee was first spotted by Iswan, one of the team’s two Indonesian guides, who had noticed a termite mound with a whole that was “very round, and just the size a giant bee might use,” Bolt wrote in a blog post about the discovery.

At the team’s request, Iswan climbed up to investigate and quickly jumped down when he saw the movement of what he thought could be either a snake or a bee. He was followed by American Museum of Natural History entomologist Eli Wyman, who confirmed the hole definitely looked like the nest of a Wallace’s giant bee.

Bolt went up next and directed his headlamp into the hole.

“I saw the bee’s face looking back at me,” he said in an interview with CBC News. “It was an extraordinary moment.”

The team spent two hours waiting for the bee to emerge. Eventually, they tapped her gently with a blade of grass “and she just walked right out,” Bolt said.

Sold on eBay

Prior to that, there had only been two scientific reports of the species. The first from Alfred Russell Wallace, the bee’s namesake and an entomologist who independently developed the theory of evolution by natural selection at the same time as Charles Darwin. And the second sighting was by American entomologist Adam C. Messer in 1981, who found six nests in the same group of Indonesian islands.

Even locals said they had never seen the bee when Bolt and the team arrived and began asking about it.

Indonesian guide Iswan examines an arboreal termite mound containing the first rediscovered Wallace’s giant bee and her nest. (Clay Bolt)

Still, there was good reason to believe that the bee still existed, as dead specimens had turned up for sale on places like eBay. One sold last March for $11, 975 ($9,100 US).

Bolt became captivated by the bee about four years ago after he was shown a specimen by Wyman at the American Museum of Natural History while doing background research for a project that involves photographing native bees across North America.

A couple of years ago, Bolt and Wyman successfully lobbied to have it added to the Global Wildlife Conservation Society’s list of “25 most wanted species” as part of its Search for Lost Species program. The program aims to find plant and animal species that haven’t been spotted for years or decades.

Simon Robson, honorary professor of biology at the University of Sydney and Central Queensland University in Australia, holds a tube containing a Wallace’s giant bee. (Clay Bolt)

As Bolt and Wyman discussed a plan to search for the bee, they were contacted by Canadian-Australian ornithologist and writer Glen Chilton, professor emeritus at St. Mary’s University in Calgary and adjunct professor at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. He had written a book about lost species and was planning a trip to hunt for the bee with James Cook University ecologist Simon Robson.

The four ended up organizing the expedition together, but Chilton fell very ill after a couple of days and had to leave Indonesia.

The team found the bee about four days later, but were unsuccessful in finding other specimens over the next two weeks.

3rd ‘most wanted’ species to be found

The bee is the third of the “25 most wanted species” to be reported found since the list was released in 2017. The news follows the announcement earlier this week that the Fernandina Giant Tortoise was found alive in the Galapagos Islands.

The first lost species found was Jackson’s climbing salamander of Guatemala in 2017. The publicity surrounding its rediscovery helped fund the creation of a reserve to protect its habitat, said Robin Moore, who leads the Global Conservation Society’s Lost Species program.

He hopes to get a similar result for Wallace’s giant bee, which is currently unprotected.

Despite the fact that it is rarely spotted, it’s only listed as “vulnerable,” not “endangered,” by the by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Moore suspects that’s because its habitat still exists, dead specimens are still being traded, and there isn’t enough data to confirm how many there are.

We’re hoping that this will help shine the spotlight and help us [fund] follow up expeditions to determine its status,” Moore said, “and hopefully catalyze conservation actions — protection of habitat, but also protection of species against the trade.”

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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