Great job, humanity! Bees make plastic nests

In the spring and summer of 2017 and 2018, researchers installed special “hotels” for lonely wild bees – structures with long hollow tubes in which the bees can build a nest for their young. Typically, such bees build their nests out of mud, leaves, stone, petals, tree sap, and whatever else they can find.

In one of the found nests, the bees collected plastic. The nest, made up of three separate cells, was made from thin, light blue plastic, similar to shopping bag plastic, and a harder white plastic. Compared to the other two nests studied, which were made from natural materials, this nest had a lower bee survival rate. One of the cells contained a dead larva, another contained an adult, which later left the nest, and the third cell was left unfinished. 

In 2013, researchers found that bees harvest polyurethane (a popular furniture filler) and polyethylene plastics (used in plastic bags and bottles) to make nests, in combination with natural materials. But this is the first observed case of bees using plastic as their sole and main building material.

“The study illustrates the ability of bees to find alternative materials for building nests,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

Perhaps the herbicides in nearby fields and foraging areas were too toxic to the bees, or the plastic provided them with better protection than leaves and sticks. Either way, it’s an unfortunate reminder that humans are polluting nature with plastic waste, and that bees are truly intelligent creatures.

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