Honeybees are known to roam about in the air a lot which is the main reason that they are the best pollinators. The ability to buzz around and pollinate millions of crops and flowers has now been widely recognized. In addition, the threat to honeybees has rung an alarm amongst scientists and general people since the extinction of bees will ultimately result in an imbalance in the supply and demand scales of agriculture.
Moreover, the body of the honeybee is covered with hair that helps them in carrying small particles. These particles are collected by the bees of their own will or at times, they simply come across it while they are traveling. The filaments get charged through an electrostatic mechanism while the bees are in flight which further helps them attract other particles.
One of the most visible substances is pollen which is crosslinked in these filaments. On the other hand, honeybees also pick or attract plant debris, tiny sticks,s or even wax. However, recently another significant particle is observed to get stuck in the filaments of the bees. This particle is plastic. Scientists are already sending warnings regarding the adverse effects of plastic all over the world.
The study that showed the evidence of the airborne microplastics found on honeybees was conducted by a group of Danish researchers. This research had been published at the beginning of this year in a journal titled “Science of the Total Environment”. They have found 13 various kinds of synthetic polymers in specific that were reported by the Danish researchers.
Microplastics Attracted To Honeybees
Bees have special hairs that are supposed to attract pollen. A new study shows they’re also accumulating airborne microplastics https://t.co/re8apnwMrj
— National Geographic (@NatGeo) May 25, 2021
It has already been widely known by most people that microplastics are found everywhere across the earth currently. Nonetheless, scientists are still trying to discover the several ways in which these airborne microplastics move through our atmosphere. Furthermore, scientists have also added that it is acutely difficult for them to collect samples. Additionally, most of the research conducted on microplastics present in the air so far has only been done on a ground level.
However, honeybees have emerged as a sample for scientists to study the microplastics in the air. This has become immensely easier since bees have hairy legs and bodies that have proven to be an extremely useful tool in order to map the distribution of wind-born shrapnels and plastic fibers in a much better manner.
The extensive and large numbers of research areas have been extra beneficial for the purpose of research since the honeybees can be easily used as live probes. They can be useful to gauge the way in which microplastics get distributed around the planet.
Scientists have informed, that this research has for the first time shown the possibility of utilizing bees as a living indicator to observe and research microplastic particles present in our environment. For the past several decades, scientists have been using bees in order to find pesticides, heavy metals, air pollution as well as radioactive fallouts. The research that had been conducted previously on the contact between plastic and bees, dates back to the 1970s and was mainly focused on macromolecules rather than microplastics.
For instance, the wallpaper bees have already been known to use their massive lower jaws to cut through the crescent-shaped plastic along with petals and leaves. Moreover, these wallpaper bees are almost the size of European bees yet they live solo and can be found all over the globe.
Environmental Concerns For Honeybees
The scientists of the United States of America, Chile, Canada, and Argentina have been observing these leaf-cutting bees who collect tiny pieces of various materials including packaging bags, and plastics to build their nests. One of the studies from the US showed that honeybees also cut their nesting materials out of the plastic flags that are used for marking or mapping construction sites.
On the other hand, the Danish researchers have collected numerous female worker bees out of the nineteen apiaries. 9 of these bees are now in Copenhagen while 10 are found in the rural and suburban localities of the city. Scientists have extracted the honeybees from their hives directly. The main reason behind this direct extraction during the spring season was because during that time the bee colonies are usually being built.
Another main reason behind the close contact between plastics and bees is that bees are normally found coming close to air, soil, water, and plants that also have plastic components. These are also the elements that accumulate microplastics. The team that was collecting the samples wore clothing that was made from natural fibers and carried other precautions that would help them avoid contaminating the bee specimen.
Following the collection, the bees are kept frozen for euthanasia and then they get washed properly to remove all the particles stuck to their body. The particles get sorted based on their shape, size, and material with the help of a microscope as well as infrared light. 15% of those particles were microplastics, 52% were found to splinter, and 38% fiber. Moreover, the bees also had natural cotton fibers attached to their filaments.
The honeybees of the city had the largest number of microplastic which is obvious given the plastic concentration in urban areas. Nevertheless, the concentration of plastics in rural bees did not see any less comparatively.