La Brea Bee Fossils Offer Clues about the Ice Age

First Posted: Apr 11, 2014 03:06 PM EDT

A recent analysis of rare leafcutter-bee fossils excavated from the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Southern California provides a glimpse into the environment of the Ice Age.

According to lead study author Anna Holden, an entomologist at the Natural History of Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM), researchers examined fossils from the La Brea Tar Pits. The home to some of the world's richest Ice Age fossil deposits, this area is also best known for its collection of saber-toothed cats and mammoths.

For the study, researchers examined the nest cell architecture and physical features of bee pupae (a developmental stage in which larva become an adult bee.) Findings showed that their Ice Age specimens belonged to Megachile gentilis, a bee species that still exists today. They are typically found in the southeastern U.S. and parts of northern Mexico.  

"Based on what we know about them today and the identification of fossilized leaf fragments, we know that their habitat at the Tar Pits was at a much lower elevation during the Ice Age," said Holden, via The Christian Science Monitor.

Unlike other types of bees, leafcutters like to remain solitary, and reproduce through small, cylindrical nest cells composed of leaves and sometimes flower petals. Researchers found that their nest cells were purposely placed underground, where the mother bee planted her babies near an asphalt pipe. From there, researchers believe that the pupae became embalmed in an asphalt-rich solution when oil soaked into the sediment surrounding the pipe, providing futher insight into the environment and climate during the Ice Age.

"Understanding climate change in the past will help us understand current climate and environment change," Holden added, via Fox News.

Researchers concluded that leafcutter bees lived in a moist environment during the Late Pleistocene age at much lower elevations.

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the journal PLOS One

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