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New Species Of Bee Are Drilling Into Sandstone To Make Their Home

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Michael Orr
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Bee in Sandstone

The red rock deserts of southern Utah are shaped by erosion. Wind and water wear down the sandstone into unique formations. Now, there is a new force drilling into the sandstone, albeit a small one.

“Most people think about bees nesting in soil or maybe sand, but sandstone is much harder, so they have to excavate it and that takes more time and energy to do,” said Michael Orr, a Utah State University Biology graduate student Michael Orr. He studies bees that are drill into the sandstone.

“It can also cause damage to the mandibles because they’re literally rubbing their teeth on sandstone,” he said.

Not only do the bees have to deal with wear and tear on their mandibles, but they have to use the softer patches of sandstone, which can increase competition. However, the stone dwellings last longer than other nests, and might protect the bees from parasites and other infections. The benefits to excavating sandstone nests seem to outweigh the costs, although a changing climate might threaten the bees.

“Because of how hard the sandstone is," Orr said, "the bees actually need to use water to help loosen the sandstone to remove the cement between the grains of sand, and because of this, this can actually limit where they can live within the environment, and could lead to problems down the line, as climate change is going to cause further aridification in deserts and reduce water available for the bees.”

This isn’t the first time the drilling of bees into sandstone has been observed.  Almost 40 years ago, retired USU Bee Lab research leader Frank Parker collected sandstone-drilling bees in the field.  They were just recently rediscovered in a drawer of the Bee Lab’s collection.  More wild populations were found, and they were the same species as the ones collected decades ago.  The new species has been described in the latest issue of Current Biology.