New technology helps paleontologists see Ice-Age bee in intricate detail

The "Megiachile gentiles" specimen -- a species of bee still alive today -- was first excavated from Los Angeles' La Brea tar pits in the 1970s.
By Brooks Hays  |  April 14, 2014 at 2:56 PM
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LOS ANGELES, April 14 (UPI) -- Scientists in California recently used CT scanning technology to capture remarkably detailed photos of an Ice Age bee, preserved in a nest of ancient leaves.

The Megiachile gentiles specimen -- a species of bee that’s still alive today -- was first excavated from Los Angeles' La Brea tar pits in the 1970s, but the fossil was too delicate to be investigated by hand. So it was set aside.

Now, with new infrared technologies, scientists have been able to analyze fossils with great precision. And for the first time since the bee nest was dug up, paleontologists have been able to peer inside to witness a the tiny pupae, or baby bee.

The intricate little insect is somewhere between 23,000 and 40,000 years old.

Researchers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County detailed their findings in the online journal PLOS One. The scientists say the bee's modern successor is one of the few species to benefit from global warming -- its range having continued to spread as the planet heats up.

The La Brea tar pits -- which are buried underneath large portions of modern day Los Angeles -- were formed as petroleum from now-dry oil fields slowly oozed to the surface, creating massive bogs that trapped and preserved animal remains. L.A. construction is constantly bumping up against portions of the tar pits, turning up materials dating between 100,000 to 330,000 years old.

Occasionally, much older fossils are found. Such was the case earlier this year, when excavators unearthed a sea lion jaw, estimated to be two million years old.

[PLOS One] [Smithsonian Magazine]

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