Nearly 40 years ago a researcher discovered bees nesting in sandstone at two sites in Utah's San Rafael Desert. He collected samples of the nests and reared the inhabitants to emergence. But his work was stored away and largely untouched until a colleague began examining the samples a few years ago and discovered five new nesting sites ranging from Ancestral Puebloan sandstone cliff dwellings at Colorado's Mesa Verde and natural formations in southern Utah and California's Death Valley.
Our new species goes to great effort to excavate nests in hard sandstone. It is believed that it also uses nearby water for excavation as the hard substrate causes wear of the mandibles.
This species is named for its use of sandstone as a nesting substrate, reminiscent to the skilled use of sandstone by the Ancestral Puebloan people.
For the experts: Humanity has long been fascinated by animals with apparently unfavorable lifestyles. Nesting habits are especially important because they can limit where organisms live, thereby driving population, community, and even ecosystem dynamics. The question arises, then, why bees nest in active termite mounds or on the rim of degassing volcanoes, seemingly preferring such hardship. Here, we present a new bee species that excavates sandstone nests, Anthophora (Anthophoroides) pueblo Orr (described in Supplemental Information, published with this article online), despite the challenges already inherent to desert life. Ultimately, the benefits of nesting in sandstone appear to outweigh the associated costs in this system.