Not called the "kill zone" for nothing, a patch of bare ash on the side of a volcano in Nicaragua that is frequently exposed to highly acidic gas is the last place you’d think of looking for life. So imagine the surprise when an entomologist climbed to the top of the volcano to find a little insect buzzing about. Just meters from the opening of the active volcano, where the vent continuously ejects ash and volcanic bombs as the magma relentlessly bubbles, a tiny species of bee has made its home.
Burrowing into the ash on the side of a volcano where temperatures can soar to 42°C (108°F), not only do the tenacious little insects have to deal with the threat of the entire mountain going off and smothering their burrows in ash and lava, but they also have to contend with the occasional downpour of acid rain caused by the sulfur dioxide fumes emitted by the thing. The conditions are so extreme, in fact, that there is no other visible life clinging to the top of the mountain, not even any plants.
How the bees manages to survive living on the barren slopes of the caldera is therefore a bit of a quandary. But by studying the dogged insects over three years, a team of researchers have been able to answer some of the bees’ mysteries. The bee in question, Anthophora squammulosa, is actually quite a widespread species, found right along the Central American seaboard, though this is by far the most punishing location it has ever been discovered living in.
Area of Masaya volcano in Nicaragua on the slopes that the bees make their home. Erenler 2015