100 million years: the oldest bee was discovered with adhering pollen and parasites

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Paleontologists have made a unique find that sheds light on the origin of bees. We are talking about the oldest specimen of a bee with pollen adhering to it and at the same time about the oldest specimen with parasitic larvae (triunguis). The insect fell into the resin 100 million years ago and survived in amber.

The achievement is described in a scientific article published in the journal Palaeodiversity by George Poinar Jr. from the University of Oregon.

Flowering plants that reign today on Earth appeared about 130 million years ago (although some researchers believe that much earlier ). One way or another, 90-100 million years ago, they already accounted for most of the flora.

The flowering had a whole set of advantages, which provided them with this triumphal procession. And not the last of them were bright flowers full of sweet nectar. Businesslike insects, purposefully flying around flower after flower, turned out to be much more effective pollinators than a carefree wind.

The main pollinators of flowers are bees. Firstly, they are much more numerous than any other insects involved in this useful business. Secondly, these are the only pollinators that at all stages of the life cycle eat only pollen and nectar.

That is, they need flowers literally like air, and they visit them very often. So the self-confident little bear could think that the bees exist to supply honey to his table, but the plants have their own opinion on this.

It is believed that bees descended from wasps. But very little is known about how harsh predators turned into a sweet tooth. Most fossil bees are not older than 65 million years and are not much different from their modern counterparts.

The bee has retained some of the signs of wasps, from which it probably originated.

In this sense, a new find of 100 million years old made in Myanmar is truly unique. There is no doubt that this bee actively visited flowers: pollen adhered to the legs of the insect. The age of the fossil makes it the oldest specimen in the world with pollen preserved.

Poynar attributed the animal to the new Discoscapidae family , the new genus Discoscapa and the new species D. apicula. The insect has common features with both modern bees and wasps.

So, with sworn friends of Winnie the Pooh, she has relatives in her hairs on her body, a rounded pronotum and a pair of spurs on her hind limbs. At the same time, the very low set base of the antennae and some features of the blood vessels of the wing make D. apicula look like a wasp. In this case, the lower segment of the antennae is bifurcated. This is a unique feature that neither modern bees or wasps have.

It is interesting that in the amber, which preserved the arthropod that died in the resin, there were 21 triungulin. This is the name of the parasitic insect larvae, whose task is to “stick” to the host, in this case the bee. Five of these intruders remained in direct contact with the buzzing creature, who was probably trying to get out of the tar.

Usually triunguis wait for bees in flowers, so the parasites became additional evidence that D. apicula was an active pollinator. In addition, this is the oldest find of a bee with triangles.

By the way, perhaps this particular unsolicited cargo was the reason for the fate befell this individual. He made the insect heavier and prevented it from flying, which could cause a “pilot error”.

“Of course, it is possible that a large number of triangulations caused the bee to accidentally hit the resin,” Poinar suggests .


This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.

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