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Bee With Adorable Dog-Like Face May Be in Danger

Meet Zephyr, a newly discovered species.

Scientists don't operate in a vacuum. They rely on colleagues, both human and non-human, for support. Wild-bee researcher Kit Prendergast of Australia's Curtin University found a way to honor her deeply loved dog friend Zephyr when she named a newly discovered species of bee. 

A male Leioproctus zephyrus seen from the side. The red circle highlights the area of its face that protrudes like a snout. 

N. Tatarnic

Prendergast published a description of Leioproctus zephyr, a bee native to Western Australia, in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research this week. The name is especially fitting because the bee has a dog-like snout, which gives it a very friendly and cute appearance when you look at it up close. The distinctive protuberance is actually a part of the bee's face called a clypeus. 

In a Curtin statement on Monday, Prendergast talked about first encountering the bees while collecting specimens in urban areas for a doctoral research project. "I was instantly intrigued by the bee's very unusual face," the researcher said. 

It takes detective work to sort out if a bee is a new species. Prendergast conducted examinations under a microscope, ran genetic tests and compared the bee to specimens in entomology collections. The bee had been collected before in the 1970s, but it hadn't been formally described.

Leioproctus zephyr female bee seen head-on and from the side.

K.S. Prendergast

The inspiration for the bee's name is a Maremma sheepdog, a big fluffy, light-colored pooch Prendergast describes as a "non-judgmental unconditional loving companion."    

Prendergast has been commenting on the study on Twitter, saying, "I'm scared my newly described species, Leioproctus zephyr, has an uncertain future. It's highly specialized, and has a very restricted, fragmented distribution." The study says the ground-nesting bee could be sensitive to habitat loss from road building or development. 

The Western Australian Museum estimates the country is home to 2,000 species of native bees, many of which have yet to be formally described. Science studies like this one on Leioproctus zephyr can lead to a better understanding of bee diversity and behavior, and aid in conservation efforts. It's challenging work, but as Prendergast knows, having a dog around can help.