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Bees are closely related to wasps and ants, known for their roles in pollination and, for producing honey. There are over 16,000 known species of bees in seven recognized biological families. Some species – including honey bees, bumblebees, and stingless bees – live socially in colonies while most species (>90%) – including mason bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, and sweat bees – are solitary.


Bees are found on every continent except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet with  insect-pollinated flowering plants. The most common bees in the Northern Hemisphere are the Halictidae, or sweat bees, but they are small and often mistaken for wasps or flies.


Bees feed on nectar and pollen, the former primarily as an energy source and the latter primarily for protein and other nutrients. Most pollen is used as food for their larvae. Vertebrate predators of bees include primates and birds such as bee-eaters; insect predators include beewolves and dragonflies.


Bee pollination is important both ecologically and commercially, and the decline in wild bees has increased the value of  commercially managed hives of honey bees. Human beekeeping or apiculture (meliponiculture for stingless bees) has been practised for millennia, since at least the times of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. Bees have appeared in mythology and folklore, through all phases of art and literature from ancient times to the present day.


Bee Evolutionary History

The entire evolutionary history of bees comes from amber fossils. The oldest non-compression bee fossil is found in New Jersey amber, Cretotrigona prisca, a corbiculate bee of Cretaceous age (~65 mya). By the Eocene (~45 mya) there was already considerable diversity among eusocial bee lineages.


The highly eusocial corbiculate Apidae appeared roughly 87 Mya, and the Allodapini (within the Apidae) around 53 Mya. The Colletidae appear as fossils only from the late Oligocene (~25 Mya) to early Miocene. The Melittidae are known from Palaeomacropis eocenicus in the Early Eocene. The Megachilidae are known from trace fossils (characteristic leaf cuttings) from the Middle Eocene.  The Andrenidae are known from the Eocene-Oligocene boundary, around 34 Mya, of the Florissant shale. The Halictidae first appear in the Early Eocene with species found in amber. The Stenotritidae are known from fossil brood cells of Pleistocene age.

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