At a glance 2 min

Wild bees make a beeline for plastic

Wild bees make a beeline for plastic
Wild bees make a beeline for plastic

A new study by a Canadian scientist reports two species of urban wild bees using plastic to build their nests.

Scott MacIvor, a researcher at Toronto’s York University has recently reported the surprising discovery of two species of urban wild bees building their nests with plastic. Not only and exclusively plastic, obviously, but still as part of their normal construction materials along with organic materials. Unlike honey bees, wild bee species are mostly solitary creatures. The females build individual small nests in which to lay their eggs. These nests are mostly found on the ground or in hollows in tree trunks or walls. To learn more about these fascinating creatures and protect them, Toronto city council has set up more than 200 nest boxes.
In the nests of one species - Megachile campanulae - the researcher found a greyish, chewing gum-like substance which analysis showed to be mainly composed of polyurethane. This grey goo was being used instead of plant resin like pine sap as a sealing material for the brood cells, where the larvae grow.

Nests of the other species, Megachile rotundata, however seemed to have been built directly with bits of plastic. This species, also known as the leaf-cutter bee, normally builds its nests by cutting leaves and bonding them together in a cigar shape. Here, some bits of leaves were replaced by bits of plastic bags. Why they have turned to plastic is not clear. Scott MacIvor’s observations suggest that the use of new materials seems not to interfere with larval development. But the researcher sees no ready explanation as to why bees use plastic to construct their nests where leaves and tree sap are widely available. One theory is that bees are opportunistic, so females may simply use the closest suitable material for building their nest in order to spend less time away from it and cut down on the risks it faces while they are out on a mission.

More information

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love the next!
  • The FlipFlopi expedition: educating through sailing
    At a glance 2 min
    The FlipFlopi expedition: educating through sailing

    In less than a year's time, a boat made of marine plastic waste will sail on the Indian Ocean to deliver a message: ‘do not discard plastics, take care of the environment.’ The idyllic coastlines of ...

  • Wello reinvents the wheel!
    At a glance 1 min
    Wello reinvents the wheel!

    Every day, over 200 million people throughout the world have to walk many kilometres to access a source of drinking water. These people are most often women and children who spend 25% of their time tr...

  • Plastic Odyssey : fuelled by waste
    At a glance 2 min
    Plastic Odyssey : fuelled by waste

    Plastic Odyssey is the name given to an expedition which aims to go around the world aboard a catamaran fuelled by plastic waste recovered throughout the journey and converted into fuel. During a s...