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A primitive 100-million-years-old bee with pollen, immersed in amber.

18 February 2020

In one of the mines in Myanmar (former Burma) an immersed in amber ancient along with flower pollen was discovered . The bee is dated back to 100 million years ago. It was identified by George Pointer Jr., a researcher from Oregon State University. To learn more about ancient biological and ecological conditions, the bee was classified as a representative of a new family, genus, and species and was named Apicula Discoscapa of Discoscapidae family. This is the first record of an ancient relative of modern bees, as well as the first record of beetle parasites that still appear in modern bees. The discovery was published in BioOne Complete and puts a new perspective on the beginning of the life of bees, a very important element in the history of evolution, as well as the diversity of plants.

Characteristics of the ancient bee:

The fossilized bee has common features with modern bees, i.e. plum hair, a pair of spurs on the posterior tibia and a rounded frontal lobe, but also with apoid wasps, i.e. very low antenna sockets or some characteristics of wing veins. It also has some unique features. The bee was described by Poinar: “Something special in the new family that has not been found on any existing or extinct apoid wasp or bee line is a forked scape. Bee fossils are quite extensive, but most of them are from the last 65 million years and look very similar to modern bees. Fossils, such as those in this study, can tell us more about the changes that some wasps underwent when they became palynivores – pollen eaters.” Interestingly, the bees evolved millions of years ago from Sphecoidea, however, not many pieces of evidence have survived about how from predatory insects they became organisms that feed on pollen. It is also unknown when this change happened. A newly discovered bee might be crucial to learn more and solve remaining mysteries.

On the specimen of the ancient insect immersed in amber, there are also pollen grains. This indicates that the bee has recently visited one or more flowers. Additional evidence for this is identified in amber by Pointar Jr. beetles of triungulin – larvae of parasites (there are as many as 21 of them, including five directly on the primitive bee). This discovery indicates that the ancient bee had been attacked by larvae of parasites that were found in the same amber piece. The researcher explained that there is a probability that these larvae were supposed to go to the nest with the bee to feed on its larvae, but a large number of them burdened the bee, which led to the fact that it fell into the resin.

Source: Oregon State University, photo: George Jr, OSU College of Science