Wild Bees Found Recycling Plastic

Water bottle which is half full so it shouldn't be wasted .

Diego G.

Water bottle which is half full so it shouldn't be wasted .

Most of the time, human consumption ends in plastic waste. With plastic building up in ecosystems around the world, it has proven to be detrimental to wildlife. However, a few animals such as bowerbirds and hermit crabs are using plastic to attract mates or use shells. In addition, Canadian and Argentine wild bees have been found to use pieces of plastic waste for nest building.

Even if the amount of plastic used by these insects doesn’t even put a dent in the world’s plastic problem, it shows how wildlife is adapting to the widespread plastic pollution. Two Canadian species of leafcutter bees were found using plastic to build their nests. These synthetic materials had a similar texture to leaves that are normally used.

The species of bees mentioned before don’t live in large colonies or store honey similar to honeybees. Instead, their nests are small and are usually located in building crevices, tree cavities, or underground holes. These kinds of nests have narrow tubes that allow bees to fit inside and fit together in a rectangular shape. One species of bees studied was the alfalfa leafcutter. Originally from Eurasia, they were introduced to North America to pollinate crops in the 1930s and became feral. They now are living with the many North American leafcutter bees. This species uses pieces of leaves and flowers in order to build its nests. 

However, researchers in Toronto, Canada found three of eight brood cells had polyethylene fragments in 2014. Polyethylene is usually used to make plastic bags. Researchers found that all pieces had a glossy white color with the consistency of a plastic bag which leads to the conclusion that the plastic came from one source. To bind nest materials together, bees normally use plant resins but it was observed some bees used plastic-based caulk instead.

A different study in Argentina between 2017 and 2018 constructed 63 wooden nests. Three were found to be lined completely with plastic. This may be because of the fact that the plastic has a similar texture to the leaves that are normally used. Each piece was about the same size and shape of a fingernail which was cut and arranged by bees into a pattern. Due to the material, it is believed the plastic came from bags or film.

This discovery is the first documentation of bees making nests solely of plastic even though scientists have found bees using plastic as a building material. More research is needed to know what it means for the bees. Using plastic may come with some benefits but it’s just as likely that there are drawbacks.