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'Ultra-Rare' Blue Bees Found In Polk After Four Years

Close-up of metallic blue bee.
Courtesy Chase Kimmel

For the first time in four years, “ultra-rare” metallic blue bees have been spotted in Central Florida.

There have been some previous studies on the blue calamintha bee, but not a lot is known about them. Until recently, scientists weren't even sure they still existed.

The Florida Museum of Natural History, along with multiple partners, started a two-year project to learn about the bees’ nesting and feeding habits, population and distribution within the scrub habitat of Lake Wales Ridge.

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“This year, we found it in a lot more locations than what we were expecting,” said researcher Chase Kimmel. “But historically, this type of habitat is impacted a lot by agriculture, urban development, and a lot of fragmentation and habitat loss, so associated with that you could have pesticide drift.”

There’s also the question of global warming, but Kimmel said they don’t have solid facts about these potential stressors, so they’re applying for more funds to continue studying these rare blue bees.

He’s taking pollen samples found on the bees to trace which flowers these rare insects are buzzing around.

Close-up of white calamint flower.
Credit Courtesy Chase Kimmel
Blue calamintha bees are named after the Ashe's calamint plant because it's where they are predominantly found.

“Even though it may not have financial or economic importance related to us, I believe it still definitely has a role and importance in that ecosystem," said Kimmel. "Maybe it's the most efficient pollinator of this state threatened plant.”

He’s referring to the Ashe’s calamint flowering plant, which is where the bee gets its name.

Kimmel said the research is being eyed by advocates to push for federal endangered status.

“It's very exciting to actually find these bees,” he said. “Then after we identify them, it's fun to open up the bag and let them fly away too knowing that they're still going strong.”

Here are the partners working with the Florida Museum of Natural History: Archbold Biological Station, Bok Tower Gardens, Florida Forest Service, Florida Park Service, Florida State Collection of Arthropods, Florida Natural Area Inventory, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Green Horizon Land Trust, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, The Nature Conservancy, Polk County Parks & Natural Resources, USDA Forest Service, USFWS, & Wildlands Conservation.

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