Bee Fossils

Up until recently, the oldest non-compression bee fossil had been Cretotrigona prisca in New Jersey amber and of Cretaceous age, a meliponine. A recently reported bee fossil, of the genus Melittosphex, is considered "an extinct lineage of pollen-collecting Apoidea sister to the modern bees", and dates from the early Cretaceous (~100 mya). Derived features of its morphology ("apomorphies") place it clearly within the bees, but it retains two unmodified ancestral traits ("plesiomorphies") of the legs (two mid-tibial spurs, and a slender hind basitarsus), indicative of its transitional status. Read more ...

Bee Fossils Provide Rare Glimpse into Ice Age Environment   Live Science - April 10, 2014
A new analysis of rare leafcutter-bee fossils excavated from the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Southern California has provided valuable insight into the local environment during the last Ice Age. The La Brea Tar Pits, located in Los Angeles, contain the world's richest deposits of Ice Ace fossils, and are best known for their collection of saber-toothed cats and mammoths. In the new study, researchers used high-resolution micro-computed tomography (CT) scanners to analyze two fossils of leaf-cutter-bee nests excavated from the pits. By examining the nest cell architecture and the physical features of the bee pupae (stage of development where the bee transforms into an adult from a larva) within the leafy nests, and cross-referencing their data with environmental niche models that predict the geographic distribution of species, the scientists determined their Ice Age specimens belonged to Megachile gentilis, a bee species that still exists today.

Israel: Archaeologists Discover Ancient Beehives Science Daily - September 4, 2007
Archaeologists revealed that the first apiary (beehive colony) dating from the Biblical period has been found in excavations in Israel's Beth Shean Valley. This is the earliest apiary to be revealed to date in an archaeological excavation anywhere in the ancient Near East, according to the researcher.

Honeybee Genome Sheds Light on "Killer" History, Bee Secrets   National Geographic - October 25, 2006
Scientists have sequenced the honeybee genome, revealing some of the biology beneath the insects' advanced social systems and powerful sense of smell as well as the spread of Africanized (or "killer") strains. The study, which paves the way for a new era of bee research, marks the third insect genome to be sequenced, after the fruit fly and the mosquito.Scientists have long wanted to know what makes the honeybee - Apis mellifera - tick, because it serves as a model for social behavior and because of its vital worldwide role as a pollinator (honeybee photos, facts, and more. Honeybees form elaborate hives and divide into complex social strata, and some honeybees have even learned abstract concepts such as "same" and "different" in the lab. But honeybee brains contain only a million neurons. That's a hundred thousand times fewer cells than human brains and only four times more than a fruit fly's. The new genome research doesn't disappoint.

This tiny, ancient insect above has created an enormous buzz. Melittosphex burmensis, which has been trapped in amber for the past hundred million years, is the oldest bee fossil ever discovered. It lived in northern Myanmar (Burma) in Southeast Asia about 35 million to 45 million years earlier than the next oldest specimens known to science. The ancient bee shares some traits with its modern relatives but is also quite unlike any other known bee (honeybee photos, facts, more). "The [previous] oldest bee fossils that we have are essentially fauna that are pretty much like modern groups that you could go out and collect today," said Bryan Danforth, associate professor of entomology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. "What's very interesting about this fossil is that it isn't really attributable to any modern group that we can think of or any bee family that exists," Danforth said. In fact, the diminutive insect, which is a mere 0.12 inch (2.95 millimeters) long, appears to have characteristics of both bees and wasps and may even be a link between the two. This fossil may help us understand when wasps, which were mostly just carnivores, turned into bees that could pollinate plants and serve a completely different biological function. The find does come with one disappointing sting: The bee is a male. Because only female bees collect pollen, the fossil might not yield many clues about exactly how ancient bees pollinated plants. But the fact that an ancestor of an important modern pollinator existed back then could help scientists explain the rapid expansion of floral diversity in the early to mid-Cretaceous (the Cretaceous period lasted between 145.5 and 65.5 million years ago).

Oldest bee fossil: 100 million-year-old fossil found in a mine in Myanmar   NBC - October 26, 2006
The discovery of the oldest bee fossil supports the theory that bees evolved from wasps, scientists reported Wednesday. The 100 million-year-old fossil was found in a mine in the Hukawng Valley of Myanmar (Burma) and preserved in amber. Amber, which begins as tree sap, often traps insects and plant structures before they fossilize."This is the oldest known bee we've ever been able to identify, and it shares some of the features of wasps," said lead author George Poinar, a researcher from Oregon State University. "But overall it's more bee than wasp, and gives us a pretty good idea of when these two types of insects were separating on their evolutionary paths."