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Fossil shows first all-American honeybee

North America once had its own Apis species instead of today’s imports

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6:56pm, July 23, 2009

North America did too have a native honeybee.

A roughly 14-million-year-old fossil unearthed in Nevada preserves what’s clearly a member of the honeybee, or Apis, genus, says Michael Engel of the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

The Americas have plenty of other kinds of bees, but all previously known honeybees come from Asia and Europe. Even the Apis mellifera honeybee that has pollinated crops and made honey across the Americas for several centuries arrived with European colonists some 400 years ago.

“This rewrites the history of honeybee evolution,” Engel says, turning over the long-held view of Europe and Asia as the native land of all honeybees.

The newly discovered bee, found squashed and preserved in shale, no longer exists as a living species, Engel says. To a specialist’s eye, it looks closest to another extinct honeybee, A. armbrusteri, known from Germany.

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