Ancient bee fossil found embedded in amber

Dec. 11, 2006 at 2:12 PM
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ITHACA, N.Y., Dec. 11 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say a 100-million-year-old bee fossil and a DNA study suggest bees may have originated in the Northern rather than the Southern Hemisphere.

The discovery of the ancient bee embedded in amber -- perhaps the oldest bee ever found -- pushes the bee fossil record back about 35 million years, said Bryan Danforth, a Cornell University associate professor of entomology.

Danforth and George Poinar of Oregon State University found the bee embedded in amber from a mine in northern Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Until now, many researchers believed the most primitive bees stemmed from the family Colletidae, which implies bees originated in either South America or Australia. However, the work by Danforth and colleagues suggests the earliest branches of the bee's evolutionary tree originate from the family Melittidae. That would mean bees have an African origin and are nearly as old as flowering plants, which would help explain a lot about the evolutionary diversification of such plants.

A report on the discovery, which the researchers say supports a new hypothesis in bee evolution, appeared in the Oct. 27 issue of Science.

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