While bee keeper Jon Garliepp did give me kudos and thanks for my recent post on bee swarms and bee keepers who come to their rescue, he also pointed out that I was not entirely correct when I gave the Europeans credit for introducing honey bees to the New World. “Reintroduced” is the verb I should have used.
In 2009, archaeologists discovered a single specimen of Apis (honey bee), a female worker, preserved in a shale formation in the Stewart Valley Basin of West Central Nevada. This 14-14.5 million years old specimen provides the first evidence that honey bees were once native to North America. The researchers named the find A. nearctica and published their findings in the May 7, 2009, Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences.
The scientists wrote: “In the case of the honey bees A. nearctica indicates that North America was one of the native regions of Apis distribution, where they became extinct sometime subsequent to the Miocene [that ended 5.3 million years ago], and the genus, like horses…was later reintroduced by European colonization of the Americas.”
The complete paper is rather lengthy. For a summary that includes a photo of the fossilized bee, check out this blog.
It’s really quite amazing that this one tiny fossil could have such an impact!