STING IN THE TALE: Wallace’s giant bee has been dubbed ‘the flying bulldog’. © Clay Bolt

It was feared extinct for almost four decades.

But a team of North American and Australian biologists has filmed Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto) alive on a remote island in Indonesia.

First discovered in 1859 by renowned English naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, the thumb-sized species had not been seen since 1981, when American entomologist Adam Messer found it on three islands in the North Mollucas archipelago.

And after a report of two individuals being offered for sale online surfaced last year, a team comprising Australian biologist Simon Robson, Canadian Glen Chilton of Saint Mary’s University, Eli Wyman of Princeton in the United States and photographer Clay Bolt set out to search for it.

“It was basically four people who had a long-term interest in this bee just got together and said, ‘let’s spend the money, we’re going to go see if we can find it’,” Dr Robson said.

The species is known to burrow into aerial termite mounds to lay its eggs, and the quartet spent five days scouring tropical forest before hitting the jackpot.

“We were in the forest and it was late in the afternoon, and we were wandering off for a late lunch and one of us spotted a termite mound,” Dr. Robson said.

“One of us climbed up the tree and the hole was lined with resin and that was very encouraging, and we finally got the torch in there and we could see the bee in there looking out at us.”

Four times larger than the European honeybee, the giant does not die after stinging, Dr. Robson continued.

“This bee could probably sting you quite happily and then sting you again, it wouldn’t kill it,” he said.

“”In fact, if we’d found more we were very keen to get stung by it to see how painful it was. But because we only found one we didn’t want to annoy it and we didn’t want to upset it.”

The bee also has huge, fearsome-looking mandibles which it uses to scrape resin from trees to line its burrow and a wingspan of some six centimetres.

It is threatened by deforestation and habitat loss, and its rediscovery comes in the wake of an alarming report suggesting that insect species numbers are crashing across the globe.