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The buzz on bees: Oldest bee fossil found

Researchers made this illustration of the head based on the visible fossil details.

Scientists reported finding the oldest fossil of a honey bee. It is 100 million years old. This fossil is about 40 millions years older than ones found before.

Honeybees are important because they spread pollen around as they collect it to take back to the hive. As they travel from plant to plant, they polinate the growing plants including farmers' crops that we eat, and flowers and trees. This bee fossil was found with grains of pollen.

Scientists will use the bee to understand how bees developed over history and how bees contributed to rapid changes in green plants.

The fossilized bee is called Melittosphex burmensis. It is very small only 2.95 millimeters long, or about a quarter-of-an-inch. The small size of the fossil proves that some of the earliest bees were tiny.

The bee fossil shows that even 100 million years ago, bees had developed important traits that modern bees have. One example is that this bee had branched hair on its leg like modern bees. Researchers believe the branched hairs are important for collecting pollen.

The bee also shows some traits of wasps, which the scientists George Poinar of Oregon State University and Bryan Danforth of Cornell University say are to be expected from an early, transitional form that bridges the gap between bees and wasps.

The bee fossil was found in amber that came from Myanmar, also known as Burma, in Southeast Asia.

These findings will be published in the journal Science in the October 27 issue.


The tiny honey bee fossil was found in amber from Myanmar, also known as Burma.

This drawing was made from the bee fossil.