Wild bees are building their homes from plastic—and scientists aren’t sure why

Researchers have speculated that plastic may form a barrier against common nest issues like mold and parasites.

Exposing the Big Game

Sarah Gibbens
a small insect on a white background: Portrait of a leaf cutter bee, the species believed to be using plastic for construction material in Argentina.© Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo ArkPortrait of a leaf cutter bee, the species believed to be using plastic for construction material in Argentina.

Wild bees, nesting in Argentinian crop fields, were recently found 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…

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