Rare Species of Australian Native Bee Rediscovered

Pharohylaeus lactiferous, a species of Australian endemic bee in the genus Pharohylaeus, had not been seen on the continent since 1923.

An oblique photo of a male Pharohylaeus lactiferous. Image credit: J.B. Dorey, doi: 10.3897/jhr.81.59365.

Pharohylaeus includes only two described species: P. papuaensis from Papua New Guinea and P. lactiferous from Australia.

Both species are relatively large, about 0.9-1.1 cm in length, robust, mostly black with distinctive white facial and body markings.

Pharohylaeus papuaensis is known only from two females which were collected in 1982.

The last published record of Pharohylaeus lactiferous is from January 1923, when three males were collected in Queensland.

“This is concerning because it is the only Australian species in the Pharohylaeus genus and nothing was known of its biology,” said James Dorey, a researcher at Flinders University and the South Australian Museum.

Pharohylaeus lactiferous was rediscovered as a result of extensive sampling of 225 general and 20 targeted sampling sites across New South Wales and Queensland.

“Three populations of Pharohylaeus lactiferous were found by sampling bees visiting their favored plant species along much of the Australian east coast, suggesting population isolation,” Dorey said.

An oblique (left) and dorsal (right) photo of a female Pharohylaeus lactiferous. Image credit: J.B. Dorey, doi: 10.3897/jhr.81.59365.

Pharohylaeus lactiferous is even more vulnerable as it appears to favor specific floral specimens and was only found near tropical or sub-tropical rainforest.

“Collections indicate possible floral and habitat specialization with specimens only visiting firewheel trees, Stenocarpus sinuatus, and Illawarra flame trees, Brachychiton acerifolius, to the exclusion of other available floral resources,” Dorey noted.

Known populations of Pharohylaeus lactiferous remain rare and susceptible to habitat destruction.

“Future research should aim to increase our understanding of the biology, ecology and population genetics of Pharohylaeus lactiferous,” Dorey said.

“If we are to understand and protect these wonderful Australian species, we really need to increase biomonitoring and conservation efforts, along with funding for the museum curation and digitization of their collections and other initiatives.”

“While Australia is home to 1,654 named species of native bees, these are often overshadowed in the eyes of public by the widespread and invasive European honeybee.”

The study was published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research.


J.B. Dorey. 2021. Missing for almost 100 years: the rare and potentially threatened bee, Pharohylaeus lactiferus (Hymenoptera, Colletidae). Journal of Hymenoptera Research 81: 165-180; doi: 10.3897/jhr.81.59365

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