Monday, April 14, 2014

La Brea bees

"I had read some of the big literature that said leafcutter bees aren't really identifiable by their nest cells. But I thought, 'That just can't be true; there's got to be a way,'" thought entomologist Anna Holden of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, California, U.S. She was examining 2 nest cells from their collection, which had been excavated from the La Brea tar pits in 1970 and she was sure they were leafcutters. With the help of her colleagues, she found a way. The researchers analyzed the nest cell architecture and the physical features of the bee pupae using high-resolution micro-computed tomography (CT) scanners. They cross-referenced their data with environmental niche models that predict the geographic distribution of species, and determined that their Ice Age specimens belonged to Megachile gentilis, a bee species that still exists today. The image above compares a modern female leafcutter bee pupa on the left with the scan of the male leafcutter that buzzed around the tar pits 23,000 years ago.

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