Ancient, Fossilized Bees were Finicky Pollen Collectors for Their Babies

First Posted: Nov 16, 2015 09:34 AM EST

It turns out that the ancient ancestors of honeybees were finicky pollen collectors. Scientists have taken a closer look at fossilized honeybees and have found that 50 million years ago they were particularly choosy when it came to feeding their offspring.

In this latest study, paleontologists studied fossilized bees from two different locations. These locations included the Messel Pit near Darmstadt and Eckfeld Maar in the Vulkaneifel. Both of these locations are former volcanic clatter lakes that were so deep that no oxygen could be found at the bottom. Any animals or plants that fell into the water were preserved extremely well in the bottom sediment.

Several bees fell into this water several million years ago, and were very well preserved in oil shale rock. Examining these fossils, researchers were able to learn a bit more about the ancient bees.

While examining the fossils, the researchers noticed a strange pattern. The pollen near the hymenoperans' heads, chests and abdomens came from completely different plants. The pollen on the insects' back legs, on the other hand, mainly came from evergreen bushes, which produce very similar blossoms.

The back legs of the long-extinct hymenoptera featured characteristic structures. The bees used them as transport containers, which is very similar to modern day honeybees. The insects used their front legs to comb pollen grains out of their body hair and then transferred them to their back legs.

The findings show that bees "snacked" indiscriminately along their flight path. However, they were far more discriminant in their pollen choices for their offspring.

The findings reveal a bit more about these ancient insects and how they collected food for their offspring and for themselves.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

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