ADAIR/CHEROKEE COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR) – Researchers with the Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory recently documented a rare species of bee, the morning glory longhorn, while conducting a survey at Cookson Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

Officials say this is the first time the species has been documented in the Sooner State!

Mary Powley, research technician with the Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory, documented the bee in July while examining a patch of bigroot morning glory growing along a Cookson WMA roadside.

“The bee is on the larger side, about the size of the first digit of your pinky finger,” said Powley. “The defining feature for the species is a distinctly shaped structure found just above the mandibles, but in general, this is a larger, more robust, and hairier bee species.”

Experts say the morning glory longhorn can be identified by a section of its face called the clypeus – these bees’ have a wide central rectangular projecting lobe with one large, triangular tooth on either side.

Though generally thought to range from Illinois east to North Carolina and south to Georgia, the Cemolobus ipomoeae has also been recorded in Colorado and now Oklahoma.

As with many other states, Oklahoma does not yet have a published list of its pollinator or bee communities.

“We’re starting to get to the point where insect and pollinator conservation is deemed enough of a priority for there to be support for developing these types of lists,” said James Hung, biologist with the Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory.

Hung launched a statewide survey of native bees and the host plants on which they rely.

He has also collaborated with other scientists to gather an initial list of native bees based on known records.

“Right now, that list is somewhere between 325 and 350 species. This initial list of Oklahoma bees has representatives from all six bee families that occur in the United States,” Hung said. “It’s hard to say how large the list could grow, but my colleagues and I are guessing that we could have somewhere around 750 species of native bees in the state.”

Hung’s baseline survey of Oklahoma bees is expected to continue until at least 2024, but he knows the work doesn’t have an expiration date.

“We could possibly be discovering new bee species in Oklahoma for decades to come,” said Hung.

The Cookson WMA consists of approximately 14,725 acres in southeastern Cherokee and southwestern Adair Counties.