The ways that bees adapt to problems created by humans is both brilliant and saddening. Just look to Argentina where researchers have discovered bees constructing nests entirely made of the flimsy plastic packaging material left on farms.
From 2017 to 2018, researchers at Argentina’s National Agricultural Technology Institute crafted wooden, artificial nests for wild bees. Unlike bee species that have a large hive with queens and workers, wild bees burrow into nests to individually lay larvae. The constructed nests fit together like long rectangles with a narrow, hollow opening that allowed wild bees to crawl inside and fill it with cut leaves, twigs, and mud.
Sixty-three wooden nests were constructed, and three were found lined entirely with plastic. Similar in size and shape to a fingernail, the bits of plastic had been carefully cut by bees and arranged in an overlapping pattern in their nests. Based on the material, researchers think the plastic may have come from a plastic bag or film, which has a similar texture to the leaves bees typically use to line their nests.
Now the question is: what does this all mean for bees? While this is the first time bees have been seen making nests only out of plastic, scientists have known for years that bees were incorporating plastic into their building materials. It’s hard to know what impact these construction habits have on bees, but the new nest building technique shows us that bees are highly adaptive to changing environments. It’s also the latest example of us finding plastic in the least-expected of places—and that’s no Bueno.