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Oldest evidence of modern bees discovered in Argentina

Fossils generally helps us conjure skeletal images of long lost organisms from the organic remains of their dead bodies. Sometimes other traces such as foot prints, nests, burrows and even excreta gets preserved and these are called trace fossils.A team of scientists under the leadership of Jorge Fernando Genise has found a fossilised burrow that suggest modern beens were alive and buzzing 110 million years ago.

The fossil nests consisiting of tunnels studded with grape-shaped alcoves were found by the team in Patagonia, Argentina. The believe these belong to the bee family Halictidae, commonly known as sweat bees. They are the only insects that build underground nest that look almost exactly like the new found fossil nests.

This comes as an important find because previous nest that was found was dated to be 94 to 97 million years old, while the oldest definited body fossil discovered was around 71 million years ago.

The researchers have published their findings in the journal Plos One. The study adds crucial details to the evolution of bees, helping confirm that bees coevolved with flowering plants around 110 to 120 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous.

“It further solidifies this timeframe … [and] it’s just kind of striking that, because they leave this secondary kind of fossil, it’s another lottery ticket that we as paleontologists can pick up,” says Phil Barden, an evolutionary biologist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who wasn’t involved with the study.

Credit: Jorge Genise

The team has found the nest while visiting Castillo Formation, a collection of rock outcrops in southern Argentina back in 2015. Team member J. Marcelo Krause, a paleontologist at Argentina’s Egidio Feruglio Paleontological Museum was the first person to notice the halictid bee nest sticking out of the rocks. To recognize Krause for his find and his contributions to the field, Genise and his team named the fossil nest Cellicalichnus krausei.

Now Genise and his team are working to analyze other remarkable trace fossils, including some that preserve ancient dragonfly behavior and a fossil ant nest seemingly rummaged through by an ancient anteater relative.

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