Journalists continue to bug me. Just after I published “A journalist’s bumble,” I noticed several stories about bees using plastic debris to build their nests. The news articles were based on a research paper by J. Scott MacIvor and Andrew E. Moore which appeared in the December issue of the scientific journal Ecosphere.
The researchers found that two species of bee, Megachile campanulae and Megachile rotundata, are using bits of chewed plastic for nest building. The M. campanulae sometimes replaced plant resins, which they normally use, with chewed pieces of polyurethane-based building sealant (caulking) to create brood cells. The M. rotundata (a leafcutter) used pieces of polyethylene-based plastic bags instead of leaf parts in some brood cells.
This is fascinating news, but the part that irks me is the photos. To illustrate “Urban Bees Using Plastic to Build Hives,” (hives?) Science Daily used a photo of a populous honey bee colony. With “Urban Bees Using Plastic Waste to Build Nests,” Nature World News used a photo of a honey bee in flight. Along with their article, “Bees Use Discarded Plastic to Build Nests,” Canoe.ca used a photo of a honey bee on a yellow flower. Click Green (UK) used a honey bee with their piece, “Study Finds Bees have Started Using Plastic Waste to Build their Hives” (hives?). Mind you, these articles have nothing to do with honey bees, so why are honey bees being used to illustrate them?
To its credit, the Toronto Star used a photo of a bee in a dandelion that could be in the Megachilidae family. It’s hard to see clearly, but it looks to have pollen adhering to its abdomen, which at least gets it close to the bees in the article.
If I were one of the scientists who did the research, I would be unglued by these reports. Most people will read the headlines, see the photos of honey bees, and conclude (can you blame them?) that honey bees are now using plastic debris to build their combs. Before you know it, people will stop eating honey.
Is it any wonder we are so confused?