Mother Nature has her fair share of troublemakers, including teeny moth larvae named the wax worm who like to feast on the wax of beehives.

Sometimes it’s nice to hear a story about something considered to be a complete pain in the arse actually having a practical purpose to its existence (besides being fishing bait, that is). Take the lowly wax worm, for example. The bane of beekeepers across Europe, this half-inch slug feasts on the wax of beehives causing severe damage as it noshes away. Beeswax is a polymer, or as one scientist calls it a ‘natural plastic’. An accidental discovery has lead researchers to believe wax worms can ingest polyethylene commonly found in the 200-plus plastic bags each one us goes through every year.

Did you know?

  1. Wax worms are the caterpillar larvae of the wax moth.
  2. The wax moth will lay its eggs in a beehive, where the infestation of larvae eat the beeswax.
  3. Federica Bertocchini, a research scientist and amateur beekeeper, had wax worms in one of her hives. When she cleaned out the hive she placed the wax worms in a sealed plastic bag.  An hour later she came back to find the worms had eaten their way out.
  4. Beeswax shares the same chemical composition as polyethylene, which is found in plastic bags, wraps, containers and bottles.
  5. Based on that accidental discovery, Bertocchini and a group of her fellow scientists at the Spanish National Research Council began studying if the wax worms were actually eating the polyethylene or just chewing through it.
  6. A few worms ground into a paste were then spread onto a bag. The paste caused the bag to degrade.
  7. Scientists are still not sure if the wax worm digests the polyethylene naturally with a special enzyme or molecule, or if it might be a bacteria in its stomach that does it.
  8. Researchers are hoping to isolate what it is the wax worm uses to degrade the plastic and produce it on an industrial, large-scale level.