Scientists find bees using plastic for constructing their nests

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wild bees
(Dirk Pons, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Bees have been building their nests in the Argentinian crop fields with the help of strange materials. Scientists have detected bee nests which have been built fully from plastic waste. Plastics come to the farms in a variety of ways such as packaging. In these changing environments, the animals have to adapt to the conditions and it is up for debate whether they can keep up with the human activities.

A team of researchers from the National Agricultural Technology Institute in Argentina detected nests built from plastic in their research of chicory pollinators. For the research, the team constructed 63 trap nests in the fields. These nests are similar to the bee hotels which are built in the backyard of homes for solitary bees. It contains long hollow tubes which resemble the honeycombs in which bee larvae grow. These cavities are lined by bees with materials such as stones, leaves, mud. Then they use these materials for building the nests in the cavities that are separated into brood cells each containing one growing bee larvae. The study is published in the journal Apidologie.

The team checked the trap nests over the spring and summer of 2017, 2018 to check the signs of any bee activity there. Only three nests were used by the bees out of which two were built with the help of mud, stones. From the nests, five healthy bees came out. The third nest was built with plastic by the bees, distinctly shaped to oval and oblong structures. It contained three cells, two built from thin, blue plastic and the third made from thicker, white plastic.

Scientists mentioned in their paper that one of the three cells had a dead larva and an adult emerged from another cell, with the third cell left unfinished. This makes the indication that plastic may not be the ideal material for building although it is not the worst either.

The team could not identify the bee to the certainty that built the nest, however, it might be an alfalfa leafcutter bee. It is a European species which the team had previously noticed in the site. It works alone, uses the leaves for lining the nests and has been previously documented by scientists in North America while using plastic to construct bee cells.

Using plastic might have other advantages which are not yet known to us, however, it is difficult to make a single conclusion from only one nest. Although, it is an indication that bees are flexible to the changing environments and can use alternate materials for construction

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