Plastic bags are seen as the scourge of the landscape, threatening the lives of wildlife and marine creatures around the world.
Yet urban bees in Canada have found a novel use for the litter.
Research from the University of Guelph has revealed some urban bees have resorted to using small pieces of plastic bags and plastic building materials to construct their nests.
The plastic is used as a substitute for plant resins and researchers claim it highlights the ‘bees’ resourcefulness and flexibility in adapting to a human-dominated world.’
‘Plastic waste pervades the global landscape,’ said lead author Scott MacIvor, a doctoral student at York University and a Guelph graduate.
‘Although researchers have shown adverse impacts of the material on species and the ecosystem, few scientists have observed insects adapting to a plastic-rich environment.’
MacIvor, along with Professor Andrew Moore, supervisor of analytical microscopy at Laboratory Services, made the discovery while examining nest boxes in Toronto.
They found two solitary bee species using plastic in place of natural nest building materials.
Markings showed that the bees chewed the plastic differently than they did leaves, suggesting that the insects had not collected the plastic by mistake. Nor were there a shortage of leaves for the bees in the study.
‘The plastic materials had been gathered by the bees, and then worked – chewed up and spat out like gum – to form something new that they could use,’ Moore said.
In both cases, larvae successfully developed from the plastic-lined nests. In fact, the bees emerged parasite-free, suggesting plastic nests may physically impede parasites, according to the study.
The nests containing plastic were among more than 200 artificial nest boxes monitored by MacIvor as part of a large-scale investigation of the ecology of urban bees and wasps, a project involving numerous citizen scientists.
‘The novel use of plastics in the nests of bees could reflect the ecologically adaptive traits necessary for survival in an increasingly human-dominated environment,’ MacIvor said.
The research was published recently in the journal Ecosphere. The photo above comes courtesy Heather Buckley,