Very Hungry Caterpillar Degrade Plastic at Record Speed
Very Hungry Caterpillar Degrade Plastic at Record Speed.
It could be a step towards dealing with water pollution.
The creature in question is a waxworm, the caterpillar larvae of a wax moth and an enemy of beekeepers as it’s a parasite in bee hives.
Newsweek notes that chicken embryos researcher Federica Betocchini happens to be a beekeeper and was recently cleaning a hive and removed some waxworms, putting them in a plastic bag.
Later she discovered they had eaten their way to freedom.
She tipped off plastic biodegradation experts Paolo Bombelli and Christopher Howe at Cambridge University.
They carried out a study and found that the waxworms are able to digest polyethylene, which makes up around 40 percent of the plastics worldwide and is most commonly used for plastic packaging, bags and bottles.
While some bacteria and fungi are known to be able to break down polyethylene, this can take between three and seven months to get started and then proceed at a very slow rate.
Bombelli and Howe found that a waxworm can make its first hole in around forty minutes and then ramp up to around three holes every hour.
The most likely explanation is that the waxworms house microbes in their stomachs that carry out the degradation, making the waxworms prepared to eat the plastic in a way other creatures wouldn’t.
Emergence of winter moths has scientist worried about another spring of defoliation
"Their caterpillars defoliated 27,000 acres in Rhode Island in the spring of 2015, but even though we had winter moths everywhere last year and I saw a zillion eggs, they caused almost zero defoliation."
Faubert believes last year’s strange winter and spring weather negated what she expected to be a dire season for winter moth defoliation.
Winter moth eggs typically hatch during a warm spell in April, but last year they began hatching during a warm period in late March.
With little defoliation occurring last year from winter moths, Faubert said it’s possible that there will be fewer adult moths flying around in the next month.
"Defoliation is very stressful to trees," Faubert said.
The females crawl up tree trunks to lay their eggs.
In an experiment she conducted last year, Faubert placed two tree bands, separated by about a foot, around one tree.
One strategy Faubert is deploying to control winter moth populations is the release of a tiny parasitic fly that lays its eggs on tree leaves.
When the winter moth caterpillar consumes the eggs while eating the leaves, the eggs hatch inside the caterpillar and the fly larva eat it from the inside out.
Faubert released the flies in seven locations in Rhode Island between 2011 and 2015, and she hopes to soon see signs that it is beginning to work.