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Moths that eat Plastic!

 
Uwe Wiedemann
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It's a bit off topic, but since there is no forum for butterflies and moths and a recent topic were mushrooms that are able to grow on plastic:
http://www.permies.com/t/9943/fungi/Oysters-Compost-Plastics

This is out about a subfamily of moths, the wax moths. They are usually well known to bee keepers, because the caterpillars live inside a bees or bumblebees nest, where they feed from the nest structure made from bees wax.

But some bee keepers used boxes made from styrofoam and look, what happened...
Aphomia sociella eating Styrofoam.png
[Thumbnail for Aphomia sociella eating Styrofoam.png]
Aphomia sociella eating Styrofoam_2.png
[Thumbnail for Aphomia sociella eating Styrofoam_2.png]
 
John Redman
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Interesting.
 
Uwe Wiedemann
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The wax moths are a small group of micro moths, which are all on this page: http://www.lepiforum.de/lepiwiki.pl?Fotouebersicht_Galleriinae. *
Sorry for the German, but there is no English version of this site.
There was another post in this forum, where somebody wondered about hundreds of caterpillars in his cellar, coming from behind styrofoam plates:
http://www.lepiforum.de/1_forum.pl?page=1;md=read;id=64173
Therefore it is quite clear, that they can use it as their only food source!

Wax moth larvae are also frequently bred as feed for geckos or as fishing bait for anglers. On some of these web pages was mentioned, that the larvae can escape from plastic boxes by biting holes in smooth or thin plastic. While some other caterpillars are able to do that too, these ones obviously can also digest it. That means they must have enzymes or microorganisms in their digestive tract, which can decompose plastic.

With some thoughts about, what wax is, this also makes sense: Waxes are lipids with long chains of hydrocarbon (http://lipidlibrary.aocs.org/Lipids/waxes/index.htm). To be able to digest bees wax, the caterpillars must break these chains into pieces.
And this is, how styrofoam looks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polystyrene_formation.png - same hydrocarbon chain, with bulky phenyl rings on every second carbon atom. Other forms of plastic, like polyethylene or polypropylene are much more similar to the chains in bees wax. I guess, all of these types of plastic could be used as food source for the caterpillars, when one presents it to them in an edible form, like the yummy styrofoam...



* Basically three species behave similar, Aphomia sociella (the bee moth), Galleria mellonella (the greater wax moth) and Achroia grisella (the lesser wax moth), probably they are often referred to together as bee moths.
 
allen lumley
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Bump : BIG AL !
 
Matu Collins
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This is very exciting! I wonder if the styrofoam-eating larvae are then toxic for other creatures to eat...I'm imagining using free Styrofoam as a food source for the grubs and the grubs as a food source for chickens but the idea of eating Styrofoam is sort of gross and possibly toxic.
 
allen lumley
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Just a quick reminder down at the bottom of this page are a listing of 'Similar Threads' to check out for more information ! Big AL !
 
Matu Collins
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Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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...and to those using a mobile device, the "similar threads" option is available if you click on the link at the bottom to go to the full site
 
Bill McGee
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Thanks Matu,
I mostly read from a phone.
*PS. I tried to give you a thumbs up, but it looks like a -1 showed up. Let me know if I can fix this
 
Matu Collins
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The thumbs up worked, thanks Bill! I was confused about that at first too. It means that you could take away the thumbs up now if you wanted to.

And to the original poster- I think this thread is on topic, these larvae fall into the category of bugs, as do other moths and butterflies. We're not talking"true bugs" just general creepy crawlies
 
Uwe Wiedemann
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Matu Collins wrote:This is very exciting! I wonder if the styrofoam-eating larvae are then toxic for other creatures to eat...I'm imagining using free Styrofoam as a food source for the grubs and the grubs as a food source for chickens but the idea of eating Styrofoam is sort of gross and possibly toxic.


Sorry, just discovered your post. Maybe the answer is interesting for others too... Styrofoam is not much different from natural waxes in its chemistry, it contains only carbon and hydrogen, nothing toxic like a lot of halogens. So, it's converted into the normal body fats, proteins and carbohydrates of the moth larvae. The only issue might be, when they eat ONLY styrofoam, that the larvae could suffer from malnutrition. But that could easily be averted by giving them some beeswax in addition.

Meanwhile there is a new discovery: Mealworms and "superworms", both larvae of beetles, can also digest styrofoam and polyethylene! Probably they have the same or similar bacteria in their digestive tract like the wax moths. Polyethylene is also a biologically benign plastic, similar to polystyrene.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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