Some 100 million years ago, a bee became stuck in tree resin. Trapped, without any chances of escape, it was preserved in time until scientists decided to analyze the ancient remains in detail. To the surprise of experts, the incredibly-preserved bee revealed unprecedented data, revealed an entirely new family, genus, and species of minute, stem lineage pollen-collecting bees.
Embedded inside amber, the bee was unveiled after professor George Poinar Jr. from the Oregon State University analyzed it revealed an entirely new family, genus and species.
According to reports, the fossil, which dates back to the Middle Cretaceous, and discovered in Myanmar provides the first record of a primitive bee with pollen and also the first record of beetle parasites, which continue to appear in today’s modern bees.
Surprising, unexpected, yet a great find for science, the discovery has been detailed in the Journal BioOne Complete and sheds new light on the early days of bees, a key component in the evolutionary history as well as diversification of flowering plants.
Pollinating insects help the reproduction of flowering plants worldwide and are also ecologically critical as promoters of biodiversity. Bees are the standard carriers because they are generally present in the greatest amount and because they are the only group of pollinators that feed exclusively on nectar and pollen throughout their life cycle.
Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants, and evolved from apoid wasps, which are carnivorous. Nevertheless, not much is understood about the changes that the wasps underwent when they made that dietary shift.
Earlier studies of bee diversifications point towards a possible African origin for bees since the earliest branches included predominantly African lineages. This implies that bees may have evolved in Gondwana.
Poinar, professor emeritus at the OSU Faculty of Science and an international expert in the use of life forms of plants and animals preserved in amber to learn more about the biology and ecology of the distant past, classified the new finding as Discoscapa apicula, in the family Discoscapidae.
The new research sheds unprecedented light on the evolution of bees. Poinar points out that the recently analyzed fossilized bee appears to share traits with modern bees – including plumose hairs, a rounded pronotal lobe, and a pair of spurs on the hind tibia – and also those of apoid wasps, such as very low-placed antennal sockets and certain wing-vein features.
“Something unique about the new family that’s not found on any extant or extinct lineage of apoid wasps or bees is a bifurcated scape,” Poinar explained while making reference to a two-segment antennae base.
“The fossil record of bees is pretty vast, but most are from the last 65 million years and look a lot like modern bees. Fossils like the one in this study can tell us about the changes certain wasp lineages underwent as they became palynivores – pollen eaters.”