Image above is a modern day carpenter bee.

Did bees and dinosaurs live on earth at the same time?

The short answer is a resounding yes. Bees lived during the time of the dinosaurs.

During the Mesozoic era on earth, the earliest dinosaurs appeared about 245 million years ago and disappeared after an asteroid hit earth around 65 million years ago. The oldest fossil bees are from circa 100 million years ago, found in Myanmar. This means bees and dinosaurs co-existed on planet earth for 35 million years, maybe longer. That’s a long time!  

There are different findings about whether bees suffered the same widespread extinction as dinosaurs did approximately 65 million years ago, or if bees survived. Some researchers believe that bees were not wiped out by the same mass extinction as dinosaurs while others disagree. Research conducted at the University of New Hampshire indicates some bee species did suffer extinction. Depending on the species of bees you research, both hypotheses can be accurate. Even back then there were multiple species, and some survived while others didn’t.

This 3:25-minute video gives possible reasons bees are here today but dinosaurs are not:

According to an October 23, 2013 report by the University of New Hampshire (a research university), scientists successfully documented for the first time a broad extinction of bees around 65 million years ago that happened simultaneously with a ‘massive event’ that wiped out flowering plants and land dinosaurs.

These findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE. Lead author Sandra Rehan, an assistant professor of biological sciences at UNH’s College of Life Sciences and Agriculture, collaborated with Australian colleagues Michael Schwarz from Australia’s Flinders University and Remko Leys from the South Australia Museum. They produced a mass extinction model in the bee group Xylocopinae, or carpenter bees, at the merging of the Cretaceous and Paleogene eras, which is referred to as the K-T boundary. Other studies suggest flowering plants also experienced widespread extinction at the K-T boundary.

Rehan stated that confirming bee extinction is challenging due to there being poor fossil records of bees, unlike with dinosaurs. The team overcame the lack of fossil evidence for bees by using molecular phylogenetics, which analyzed DNA sequences of four “tribes” of 230 species of carpenter bees from each continent except Antarctica to study evolutionary relationships. This technique revealed patterns consistent with mass extinction.

Blending DNA analysis with the available fossil records let the researchers introduce time into the equation. It revealed how old the bees were and how they were related. Rehan confirmed the data identified that something major happened to four different groups of bees at the same time, and it was at the same time the dinosaurs became extinct.  

It has long been assumed that since the plants the bees depended on to survive were wiped out, bees probably were as well.

A fossil is a mineralized specimen of a long dead creature. In contrast to the scarcity of bee fossils, reconstructed fossilized T. Rex, Triceratops and Velociraptors can be viewed at museums around the USA.

Scientists have identified dozens of extinct bee species. The best preserved bees have been found in amber, a fossilized tree sap. They were probably trapped in the sap when they foraged for materials to construct nests. The age of such fossils can be determined by evaluating the age of the surrounding rocks by using the “radiometric clock” technique, which relies on the timeline of the decay of uranium into lead. This method was not mentioned in the University of New Hampshire study.    

Could these findings help us understand the current decline in many species of bees? Sandra Rehan stated that if we knew the whole story of bees, many of us would be more interested in protecting them. Understanding past extinctions and the effects from such declines can help us understand our current crisis of global pollinator decline.

You can read the University of New Hampshire research project article here.

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