Posted by: David Green | February 16, 2010


Amber insects are among the most remarkable of fossils. They are preserved in breathtaking detail, and since amber is transparent, they make great subjects for photography. I recently had the opportunity to photograph some insects in Dominican amber, including a beautiful stingless bee. The first claims of DNA extraction from an amber fossil were made with this species, although subsequent attempts to replicate the experiment proved unsuccessful.

A stingless bee, Proplebeia dominicana, in sixteen million year old Dominican amber

Stingless bees are closely related to honey bees and bumblebees. They are common in tropical and subtropical regions. In the Americas, stingless bees are in decline due to competition from Africanized honey bees. Conservation programmes are underway to protect them in some areas.

Amber insects are preserved in breathtaking detail as this close view shows

Africanized bees, sometimes described inappropriately as killer bees, provide an illustration of how quickly a none-native species can expand. They were accidentally released in the south east of Brazil in 1957 and spread rapidly through tropical South America, invading Central America and Mexico and reaching the southern USA by 1990. They swarm more frequently and fly further than other types of honeybees. They are also more defensive, guard their hives more aggressively, and pursue threats for long distances.

Africanized honey bees on a piece of melon in southern Arizona in 2003.

I encountered Africanized bees whilst camping in Arizona in 2003. We had begun to prepare a meal and there were a few bees, then more (good for a photo), and then they were everywhere. They were particularly attracted to fluid: bits of melon, water bottles, even the sweat on your hands and face. We packed the camp up taking great care not to harm any of the bees. An injured bee could release an alarm pheromone that would trigger others to attack. We were pursued for a quarter of a mile, but not stung.

David Green


  1. Very interesting and somewhat frightening!

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