A 100 million year old bee trapped in amber, the oldest known specimen with pollen

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Animals trapped in amber can be found all over the world and are helping scientists better understand the evolution of certain species. Recently, a 100 million year old bee has been found, the oldest pollen-containing specimen known to date. Colonized by beetle parasites, it was this attack that would have deflected the bee and made it plunge into amber.

The female bee, which has been trapped in tree resin and therefore preserved in amber, has been identified by Oregon State University researcher George Poinar Jr. as new family, a new genus and a new species. The Myanmar Cretaceous fossil provides the first record of a primitive bee with pollen, and also the first record of the beetle parasites, which continue to appear on modern bees today.

Better understand the evolution of bees and flowering plants

The results, published in the journal BioOne Complete, shed new light on the early days of bees, a key element in the history of the evolution and diversification of flowering plants. Pollinating insects help reproduce flowering plants worldwide and are also ecologically critical as promoters of biodiversity.

amber bee

This bee found trapped in amber is 100 million years old. Credit: George Poinar Jr.

Bees are standard bearers because they are generally present in greater numbers and because they are the only group of pollinators that feed exclusively on nectar and pollen throughout their life cycle. Bees have evolved from apoid wasps, which are carnivores. However, little is known about the changes that wasps underwent during this food transition.

Discoscapa apicula : traits similar to modern bees

Poinar, professor emeritus at the OSU College of Sciences and international expert in the use of plant and animal life forms preserved in amber to learn more about the biology and ecology of the distant past, has classified the new animal discovered as Discoscapa apicula, in the family of Discoscapidae. The fossilized bee shares features with modern bees – including feathery hair, a rounded pronotal lobe and a pair of spurs on the posterior tibia – as well as those of apoid wasps, such as very low antenna sockets and certain veins wing.

Related: A 99 million year old ammonite found trapped in amber

bee pollen

Pollen grains deposited on the bee. Credit: George Poinar Jr.

The fossil record of bees is quite large, but most are from the last 65 million years and are very similar to modern bees. Fossils like the one in this study can provide us with details of the changes that some wasp lines went through when they became palynivores “.

Many pollen grains on Discoscapa apicula show that the bee had been on one or more flowers shortly before its death. ” Additional evidence that the fossil bee had visited flowers is the 21 triungulins – larvae – in the same piece of amber that went back to the honeycomb to feed on the bee larvae and their supplies, the food left by the female. It is certainly possible that the large number of triungulins caused an accidental flight of the bee in the resin “.

Sources: BioOne Complete

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