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Natural World

Plastic-eating caterpillar could aid disposal

April 26, 2017 | Comment icon 2 comments



Could a humble caterpillar help clean up the planet ? Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 epSos.de
A species of caterpillar known to eat wax inside beehives has been found to eat plastic bags as well.
Known as Galleria mellonella, the species is generally regarded as something of a pest due to its penchant for laying eggs inside beehives and then munching through the beeswax.

The caterpillar's more unusual talent for eating through waste plastic however was discovered entirely by accident when Frederica Bertocchini found holes in the bags she had been using to collect the grubs from her own beehives.

After the problem happened a second time with a different type of plastic bag, she realized that the caterpillars were actually consuming the plastic in much the same way as they consume beeswax.
In an experiment, 100 caterpillars were placed into an old supermarket plastic carrier bag. Within a mere twelve hours, the insects had reduced the mass of the plastic bag by 92 milligrams.

While the exact process through which the insects are able to eat the plastic in not fully understood, scientists believe that they are able to break down the stable molecular chain in the polyethylene.

"I was surprised about the similarity of the chemical structure between wax and the plastic," said study lead author Paolo Bombelli. "The caterpillar is able to munch through the wax the same way they are able to munch through the polyethylene."

Given the amount of waste plastic that currently exists on our planet, this tiny insect could prove invaluable as a natural and effective way to dispose of non-degradable materials.

Source: CBC.ca | Comments (2)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by kartikg 5 years ago
this is wonderful and if they convert this into fertilizer there will be farms of these.
Comment icon #2 Posted by UFOwatcher 5 years ago
Not clear to me if it was determined they were actually eating the plastic as opposed to cutting holes the size of their bodies [looking at the picture] to get out. Did they actually ingest plastic? Bad for the bees...


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