Does your honey taste like plastic?
When apiarists set their bees out to make honey, they know the insects will collect nectar from the surrounding environment, lending a signature taste to the sweet syrup come collection time.
Tupelo, clover, peach, orange blossom, even notes of eucalyptus can be found in unadulterated jars of honey if the bees have been buzzing in the right spots.
Bees will build nests out of the materials they find around their environment, too. Rampant pollution has forced them to think outside the hive, however. Some bees are even building nests with pieces of plastic.
When scientists in South America were studying the way pollinators outline their territory and work with neighboring hives, they discovered a bee’s nest made entirely out of plastic.
“The nest was found in a chicory field for seed production in San Juan, Argentina,” Mariana Laura Allasino of the National Agricultural Technology Institute told Atlas Obscura.
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Allasino was coauthor of a report on the discovery in the journal Apidologie. She determined that the nest was made by a bee from the Megachilidae family, which is known for using materials found nearby to build nests. Megachilidae will commonly build nests out of tree bark, leaves, soil, sometimes even animal fur.
This nest seemed to be built out of plastic shopping bags.
“Due to our activities, human beings are contributing to the ecosystem’s degradation and biodiversity loss,” Allasino said. “The most fascinating thing about this finding is that it suggests the adaptive flexibility that certain bee species would have in the face of changes in environmental conditions.”
There is no telling whether the bee’s health suffered due to the plastic. It is a testament to the creativity and diligence of the species, however.
“The replacement of natural materials by plastic could be due to a limitation in the availability of vegetation in the fields or an overabundance of waste, which could be directly related to the management of agricultural activity,” Allasino said. “Plastic waste is something usual we can find in an agricultural field that comes from neighbors who throw waste in the fields or from the inputs of agricultural practices.”
Allasino and her colleagues are trying to determine the bee’s species by analyzing DNA from dead larvae found in the nest.
“We will continue to set trap-nests for solitary bees to know the species that are present in the fields,” she said, “and to increase the probability of finding another nest with the same characteristics as the one we already found.”
Learn more in the video below.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.