When people think of the planet’s natural history, they don’t usually think of the evolution of the bee. Yet our buzzing friends, like many insects, are some of the oldest species on the planet. From adopting a diet of pollen to spreading across the entire globe, here’s how honey bees have evolved over time.
The process of how honey bees have evolved began somewhere between 80 and 150 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period. They descended from predator wasps, which had already been around for millions of years. A certain species of sphecid wasp—an insect family that preys on other insects—began gradually adding pollen to its diet. The protein-rich pollen is an excellent food source for these insects, especially when prey is scarce, so the species eventually came to rely on it to feed itself and its young. This eventually resulted in the first bee.
Evolving With Flowers
The development of bees worked to nature’s advantage—suddenly there was a far more efficient way of pollinating plants. Many scientists believe that the evolution of bees coincided with the evolution of flowering plants. As more species of bees fed on pollen, flowers developed bright colors and unique shapes in order to attract more insects. In turn, some bees—such as the honey bee—developed hair all over their bodies and stiff baskets on their legs in order to catch more pollen as they flew from flower to flower.
Bees survived the mass extinction that took out the dinosaurs and most of the planet’s large creatures. In the millions of years that followed, bees spread across the planet, adapting and evolving as they went to their different climates. Today, scientists have identified roughly 25,000 species of bees across the world. Among them, of course, are the honey bees, which are as vital to our planet now as their ancestors were in the Cretaceous period. Modern beekeepers are devoted to preserving bee populations so that they can remain members of our planet for years to come.
If the mesmerizing world of bees has caught your interest, consider keeping bees in your own backyard. Pick up a honey bee starter kit, and see for yourself all the wonders these creatures have to offer.