Waxworm: How can they Reduce Plastic Pollution?

What are Waxworms?

Waxworms are the caterpillar larvae of wax moths, which belong to the family Pyralidae (snout moths). Two closely related species are commercially bred the lesser wax moth (Achroia grisella) and the greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella).

They belong to the tribe Galleriini in the snout moth subfamily Galleriinae. Another species whose larvae share that name is the Indian meal moth (Plodia interpunctella), though this species is not available commercially.

The adult moths are sometimes called “bee moths”, but, particularly in apiculture, this can also refer to Aphomia sociella, another Galleriinae moth that also produces waxworms, but is not commercially bred.

Waxworms are medium-white caterpillars with black-tipped feet and small, black or brown heads.

In the wild, they live as nest parasites in bee colonies and eat cocoons, pollen, and shed skins of bees, and chew through beeswax, thus the name. Beekeepers consider waxworms to be pests. Galleria mellonella (the greater wax moths) will not attack the bees directly but feed on the wax used by the bees to build their honeycomb.

Their full development to adults requires access to used brood comb or brood cell cleanings these contain protein essential for the larvae’s development, in the form of brood cocoons. The destruction of the comb will spill or contaminate stored honey and may kill bee larvae or be the cause of the spreading of honey bee diseases.

When kept in captivity, they can go a long time without eating, particularly if kept at a cool temperature. Captive waxworms are generally raised on a mixture of cereal grain, bran, and honey.

waxworms

Biodegradation of Plastic

Two species of waxworm, Galleria Mellon Ella and Plodia interpunct Ella have both been observed eating and digesting polyethylene plastic. The waxworms metabolize polyethylene plastic films into ethylene glycol, a compound that biodegrades rapidly.

This unusual ability to digest matter classically thought of as non-edible may originate with the waxworm’s ability to digest beeswax as a result of gut microbes that are essential in the biodegradation process.

Two strains of bacteria, Enterobacter asburiae, and Bacillus sp, isolated from the guts of Plodia interpunct Ella waxworms, have been shown to decompose polyethylene in laboratory testing. In a test with a 28-day incubation period of these two strains of bacteria on polyethylene films, the films’ hydrophobicity decreased.

In addition, damage to the films’ surface with pits and cavities (0.3-0.4 μm in depth) was observed using scanning electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy.

Placed in a polyethylene shopping bag, approximately 100 Galleria Mellon Ella waxworms consumed almost 0.1 gram (0.0032 ounces) of the plastic over the course of 12 hours in laboratory conditions.

Studies carried out in 2020 by Bastian Barton at the Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability (LBF) in Darmstadt, Germany, disproved the ability of Galleria melon Ella caterpillars to digest and biologically degrade polyethylene.

Even though the waxworms would eat holes into polyethylene bags, they ingested only a small proportion, excreted the polyethylene unaltered, and showed significant loss of body weight.

Who is Discover wax worms as Plastic Biodegradation?

Ms. Federica Bertocchini is now a beekeeper and it is to her credit; the discovery of plastic-eating worms is too.  Professor Bertocchini, who belongs to the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria in Spain, was so annoyed to see her beehives infected with the caterpillars.

So, while cleaning the beehive she put all these worms into a plastic bag and made sure that the beehive is safe from infections. But to her astonishment, all the worms were out of the plastic bag within a little time leaving behind the plastic bag with many holes.

solution for plastic degradation

Bertocchini, along with the researchers of Cambridge University checked this with 100 wax worms in a plastic bag. They could make out that within 40 minutes the plastic bag was reduced by 92mg.

Polyethylene was known for its hardness and the nature of non-biodegradable nature. Breaking down this within 24 hours’ time is such a cool update for humankind.

These wax worms were observed very closely and found that these worms excrete within 24 hours of consuming the plastic and these stools were tested to see any plastic particles appear in the excrete. The scientists were pretty confused with the fact whether these worms are merely cutting down the plastic into small bits.

But it was really amazing to know that these excretes dis not have any plastic in it. Thus, it was confirmed that the plastic consumed by these is being digested by these worms completely. Excrete of these appear and was compared to that of rabbit’s excrete and was also found that those are good for the soil fertility and also biodegradable.

Waxworms as a food source

Waxworms are a commonly used food for many insectivorous animals and plants in captivity. These larvae are grown extensively for use as food for humans, as well as live food for terrarium pets and some pet birds, mostly due to their high-fat content, their ease of breeding, and their ability to survive for weeks at low temperatures.

They are recommended for use as a treat rather than staple food, due to their relative lack of nutrients when compared to crickets and mealworms. Their high fat and calorie density can also contribute to obesity in captive animals if they are fed waxworms too often, especially in animals with low metabolisms, such as reptiles.

Most commonly, they are used to feed reptiles such as bearded dragons (species in the genus Pogona), the neon tree dragon, geckos, brown anole, turtles such as the three-toed box turtle, and chameleons. They can also be fed to amphibians such as Ceratophrys frogs, newts such as the Strauch’s spotted newt, and salamanders such as axolotls.

Small mammals such as the domesticated hedgehog can also be fed with waxworms, while birds such as the greater honeyguide can also appreciate the food. They can also be used as food for captive predatory insects reared in a terrarium, such as assassin bugs in the genus Platymeris, and are also occasionally used to feed certain kinds of fish in the wild, such as bluegills.

Solving the Mystery

Bertocchini teamed up with fellow scientists Paolo Bombelli and Christopher Howe to find out how wax worms spread on plastic.

When they placed the worms on polyethylene plastic, they found that each worm was making an average of 2.2 holes per hour. 100 waxworms decomposed 92 milligrams of a plastic bag overnight. At this rate, it would take those 100 worms nearly a month to completely break down an average 5.5-gram plastic bag.

To prevent the jaws from being chewed as the cause of the degradation, the team applied a soupy mix of recently deceased worms to the plastic and waited. Sure enough, they found that the liquid larvae could also eat holes in the plastic. This is what Bertocchini and colleagues said an enzyme in the worms or the bacteria that live in and on their bodies will break down the plastic.

This enzyme converted polyethylene into ethylene glycol, a chemical commonly used in antifreeze. Bertocchini hopes to be able to identify the exact enzymes that break down polyethylene in future work.

Looking for a solution

For decades, scientists have been looking for a way to biodegrade plastics, says Uwe Bornscheuer, a biochemist at the University of Greifswald in Germany.

Plastic pollution is a big global problem,” said by Bornscheuer.

In 2014, Wu and colleagues from Stanford University discovered that an intestinal bacterium in a different species of wax worm can break down polyethylene, although it has different by-products. A 2016 study identified the enzymes in a type of bacteria that could break down a type of plastic called poly (ethylene terephthalate).

“There are probably many other types of worms that can break down plastics,” he said.

For Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute marine biologist Tracy Mincer, the solution to plastic pollution must focus on producing less and recycling more.

“Polyethylene is a high-quality resin that can be recycled in a variety of ways, and it rakes in as high as $ 500 per ton,” he said in an email. “In my opinion, while this is an amazing natural history and a wonderful academic exercise, it is not a solution to the disposal of polyethylene because it is throwing away money.”

FAQs.

What are Waxworms?

Waxworms are the caterpillar larvae of wax moths, which belong to the family Pyralidae (snout moths). The adult moths are sometimes called “bee moths”, but, particularly in apiculture, this can also refer to Aphomia sociella, another Galleriinae moth that also produces waxworms, but is not commercially bred.

What Do Waxworms Eat?

  • As their name implies, waxworms eat beeswax, as well as honey.
  • Adult waxworms (wax moths) don’t eat or drink.
  • Captive-bred waxworms are generally raised on a mixture of cereal grain, honey, and sometimes glycerin.
  • Generally speaking, you don’t need to feed your waxworms.

Do wax worms bite humans?

No. Waxworms have small, weak mandibles that are unable to significantly bite humans or reptiles.

Do waxworms eat plastic?

The waxworm, researchers discovered in 2017, is seemingly able to eat through common types of plastic including polyethylene, a non-biodegradable type of plastic that is the most commonly used worldwide.

What does a waxworm turn into?

Waxworms are the larvae of the wax moth. If left to their own devices they will pupate and turn into wax moths, which are small moths that don’t live very long and are still edible for your animal if wanted to feed them off.

Are wax worms’ maggots?

“Waxworms. They’re not maggots.” Waxworms are caterpillar larvae, while maggots turn into flies. I used to think waxworms were baby bees, but I-¿ve since learned that they’re the larval form of the wax moth.

Are waxworms and mealworms the same?

They are the larvae of darkling beetles. The larvae exist for about 8 weeks. Unlike waxworms, which are always soft, mealworms have a harder exterior that they will molt and shed many times during their brief life cycle. Under that exoskeleton will be a soft and buttery treat for your reptile to enjoy.

Are wax moths poisonous?

Because lesser wax moths eat unoccupied honey bee combs, they are considered pests to bees and beekeepers. However, unoccupied combs can harbor harmful pathogens that inflict damage to neighboring insects.

Why do wax worms eat plastic?

The Brandon researchers found that the worms can survive on a sole diet of polyethylene. And eating that much plastic increased the microbes in their guts, suggesting that the bacteria love to digest plastic. The researchers have even dubbed the worms as “plastivores.”

Why are wax worms called wax worms?

The larval form of a small moth, wax worms get their names because they live on the wax in beehives. Like plastic, wax is a polymer, which consists of a long string of carbon atoms held together, with other atoms branching off the sides of the chain.

What are waxworms used for?

Waxworms as a food source. These larvae are grown extensively for use as food for humans, as well as live food for terrarium pets and some pet birds, mostly due to their high-fat content, their ease of breeding, and their ability to survive for weeks at low temperatures.

Do you have to feed wax worms?

Waxworms do not need to be fed. As a daily task, remove any dead worms (they will appear black) and remove the cocoons of any that are spinning.

What can waxworms eat?

Waxworms Eat in the Wild:

  • As their name implies, waxworms eat beeswax, as well as honey.
  • Adult waxworms (wax moths) don’t eat or drink.
  • Captive-bred waxworms are generally raised on a mixture of cereal grain, honey, and sometimes glycerin.
  • Generally speaking, you don’t need to feed your waxworms.

Do wax worms feel pain?

But a team of Swedish researchers has uncovered evidence that worms do indeed feel pain, and that worms have developed a chemical system similar to that of human beings to protect themselves from it.

Can you eat wax worms raw?

The short answer is yes. These squiggly creatures can be eaten raw or cooked, especially for small children who are invariably drawn to earthworms. Not sure why, that’s just the way it is!

Can waxworms and mealworms be kept together?

I always have a few “treat” items handy for Gordon. So once a week he gets a mealworm, sometimes twice a week. Last week I decided to get a few waxworms to mix up his weekly treat. Without hesitation, I just put them in with the mealworms that I keep in some oats in a little container.

Can I use dried mealworms for fishing?

If you have live or dried mealworms hanging around the house you can actually use them for fishing. Using grubs or worms is one of the simplest ways to fish but it’s also one of the more effective ways. Live ones are always going to be the best option but dried ones will still do the job.

Do mealworms turn into wax worms?

Not unless your a MEAL! LMMFSAO! Waxworms are caterpillar larvae of wax moths and are medium-white caterpillars with black feet and small brown or blackheads. They get the name waxworms from their ability to eat beeswax, as they are a parasite in bee colonies in the wild.

Can you harvest honey with wax moth?

Wax moth larvae prefer dark brood combs that contain some pollen. However, combs sticky with honey after extracting, white combs and combs containing honey are still at risk of attack. Larvae may damage frames and hives by chewing the wood to make cavities for cocoons.

How do you get rid of wax moths?

Periodic freezing of beehive frames and rotating them in use are effective against wax moths. Freezing kills wax moth larvae and eggs too. Beekeepers should also have extra beehive frames that they can rotate in the hive. You should freeze frames before storage, and store them in moth-proof bags.

Do wax moths eat foundation?

Luckily, all is not ruined because the frames were made using plastic foundation and not wax. I’ve seen what unfettered wax moths can do to the wax foundation and it is ugly! Yet, still, the wax moths managed to eat the tiny bit of wax that was coated on top of the plastic.

Why do wax worms turn black?

This normally happens if they have been exposed to cold temperatures and yes you can feed them. If you mean that they have turned dark brown and hard, then they are entering their pupa cycle and technically, yes, if your chameleon is interested, then he can eat them.

How long does it take for wax worms to eat plastic?

Even with chemical degradation, it takes several months to decompose. In a study, scientists found that 100 wax worms were able to biodegrade 92 milligrams of PE in 12 hours, or about 2.2 holes per hour per worm.

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