A team of zoologists has made a hair-raising discovery while conducting research in Utah’s San Rafael desert: a new species of bee, Anthophora pueblo. While the discovery of new insect species is a fairly commonplace occurrence, it’s the bee’s’ unique method of creating a habitat that is giving insect researchers and melissophobics the willies. According to observations of the bees in the wild, Anthophora pueblo can actually chew through rock.
In a study published in the journal Current Biology, the researchers claim these bees use their incredibly strong mandibles to gnaw networks of tunnels into the sandstone cliffs that line the valleys and mountain ranges in the San Rafael desert. The bees have also been observed collecting water in their mouths and then using it to make a primitive form of concrete that helps bind their tunnel networks together. All of the rock-chewing bees nests were discovered near sources of water, implying that the bees might depend upon this cement for the structural integrity of their rocky homes.
The discovery of the rock-eating bees was made by a team of entomologists from Utah State University. Lead research Michael Orr stated in a university press release that the bees present a completely new line of study for bee researchers:
Not much is known about this hard-to-find species and our first step was to confirm it actually prefers nesting in sandstone. Once we confirmed this preference, the next step was to explore why the bees expend such tremendous effort and energy, limiting their ability to reproduce, to create these shelters.
The sandstone tunnels in which the bees chew their homes are thought to provide them with a perfect shelter for the harsh conditions of the Utah desert, deter predators, and even offer resistance to microbes and parasites which can develop in organic matter that makes up conventional beehives.
While that’s all well and good, bees with rock-chewing mandibles creeps me right out. Let’s just hope these bees don’t develop a taste for human flesh.