Bees collect polyurethane and polyethylene plastics as novel nest materials


  • Corresponding Editor: T. Roulston.


Plastic waste pervades the global landscape. Although adverse impacts on both species and ecosystems have been documented, there are few observations of behavioral flexibility and adaptation in species, especially insects, to increasingly plastic-rich environments. Here, two species of megachilid bee are described independently using different types of polyurethane and polyethylene plastics in place of natural materials to construct and close brood cells in nests containing successfully emerging brood. The plastics collected by each bee species resembled the natural materials usually sought; Megachile rotundata, which uses cut plant leaves, was found constructing brood cells out of cut pieces of polyethylene-based plastic bags, and Megachile campanulae, which uses plant and tree resins, had brood cells constructed out of a polyurethane-based exterior building sealant. Although perhaps incidentally collected, the novel use of plastics in the nests of bees could reflect ecologically adaptive traits necessary for survival in an increasingly human-dominated environment.