Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

“Can bee hives be preserved as fossils?”

Not a fossilized beehive, although fossilized favosite corals like this one are often mistaken for fossilized beehives by amateur collectors. (Image: The Virtual Fossil Museum)

Walking home from school one day, my daughter’s mind was full of fossils. More specifically, she wanted to know if the rock with all the funky indentations she’d picked up could be a fossilized beehive. I had to tell her no.

But not because I really knew anything about it. The funky indentations in her rock just didn’t look like a bee hive to me.

That line of reasoning wasn’t good enough for my daughter. After all, ancient bees might have made very different homes than the modern ones.  She wanted to know if any ancient bee hives could have been preserved as fossils, and insisted that I ask Caterpickles.

Can bee hives be preserved as fossils?

As it turns out, most fossils identified as beehives are actually fossilized coral. Google “favosites” and you’ll see what I mean.

That’s because the honeycombs that give beehives their distinctive look are made of wax  and are extremely fragile. In most cases, they are destroyed long before the beehive can be preserved as a fossil.

Even so, according to Dr. Judi Kusnick’s lecture notes for her Geology 105: Paleontology class at Sacramento State, paleontologists have found fossilized bee hives. Sadly, aside from a specimen preserved in amber that might be a beehive or might just be a wasp nest but which can’t be viewed without the proper online credentials, I wasn’t able to find any images of fossilized beehives online. At least, none that I trusted the source to have identified correctly.

Anyone out there have better luck?

8 Responses to ““Can bee hives be preserved as fossils?””

  1. Billy

    i have found a possible wasp nest fossil, it looks more like a wasp nest then a bee hive but i could be wrong. In some of the outer hex holes i can see crystals that sparkle scattering light in many directions. Also in another hex hole i can see a small chunk of stone that looks like the material Native Americans used to make arrow heads. It has completely turned into stone. I don’t know how old this is, but could you give me a rough estimate on how old you think it is?

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    • Shala Howell

      That sounds really cool, Billy. Thanks for visiting Caterpickles and taking the time to tell me about it.
      Unfortunately, I’m not actually an expert in stuff like this, so I can’t even venture a guess.
      I’d start by checking out a book on fossils at your local library to see if you can find anything that matches it. You will want to rule out the possibility that it’s a fossilized favosite coral.
      If you are pretty sure that what you have isn’t a favosite, you’ll want to get an actual expert opinion. Do you have a college with a geology department near you? Or a natural history museum? Either of these places would have folks on staff who would be better able to judge your fossil than I.
      If your local high school has a good science program & motivated teachers, you could try reaching out to their administration office and asking if you can speak to one of their science teachers about it. All the science teachers I know love to help people track down puzzles like this. They’ll have helpful pointers, if not actual answers.
      Failing that, you could try taking your fossil into a rock shop. The owner of it may be able to tell you what you’ve found — or give you some hints on where you can find more information about it. (I wouldn’t simply sell it to the shop owner, though, until you’ve done your own research to verify what he / she tells you, as he/she may have a financial interest at stake at odds with your own.)
      Good luck. I’d love to know what you found out, so if you have time, stop back by and tell me.
      Thanks for reading Caterpickles.

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  2. Audrey Madeley

    I found what would appear to be a a bee hive fossil with it’s distinct hexagon shaped holes but I’m not sure now that you said it could possibly be coral.

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    • Shala Howell

      Hi Audrey. Thanks for stopping by Caterpickles and taking the time to tell me about it.
      Whatever it ends up being, it sounds like a neat rock. 🙂

      We haven’t found a beehive-like fossil here yet, although my daughter faithfully looks everywhere she happens to be where there are rocks (a really long way of saying everywhere).

      Enjoy the find, and if you would like to know which kind of fossil it is, you might ask a local expert for help figuring it out. Potential helpers include a friendly science teacher, the owner of a rock shop, even your local librarian, who could at the very least point you in the direction of some books on the topic.

      Good luck. I’d love to know what you figure out!

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    • Shala Howell

      I’m sorry I can’t give you a better answer. As I explained above, this isn’t really my field. Can you take your fossil to a local rock / fossil store or nature museum? Someone there might be able to steer you in the right direction. If not, you could try your local library. You’d be amazed at what librarians can help you dig up in their stacks. Good luck!

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