Scientists Continue to Search for the Male Samba Turkana

Most people know to run at the first site of black and yellow stripes accompanied by a buzzing noise – the warning sound of your common bee. A recently discovered bee species, the Samba Turkana, comes without the tell-tale stripes, however.

Entomologist Dino J. Martins discovered the Samba Turkana in the deserts of Turkana, Northern Kenya while researching insects with the Turkana Basin Institute. When he first discovered the bee in 2012, he found only a couple of female bees. After a few more years of research, he unearthed females of the species in mass.

The female Samba Turkana has an important, distinctive anatomical feature: a lengthy, pointed, cook on its hind legs. The bee uses this crook to expose flowers’ anthers and more easily access pollen, on which the bee feeds. These insects primarily feed on Crotolaria flowers, which are easy to spot with their bright orange color. After it rains in Turkana, the bees leave their burrows early to gather the flower’s pollen. They only have a few days to complete this complex task due to the drying effects of the punishing desert heat.

Female Samba Turkanas make their nest underground. They build small tunnels and, within these tunnels, they construct even smaller cages called cells, in which they lay their eggs and store the pollen they collect. Samba Turkanas do not work with other bees. For them, it is every bee for herself.

Though researchers have learned much about the female bees they have yet to find male Samba Turkanas. Of this, Martins stated, “they are likely just focused on mating – we can already see that they don't help at the nest or collect pollen.”

Other places that scientists like Martins have yet to explore hold the promise of male Samba Turkanas.

[Source: National Geographic]