Plastic is fantastic. It’s cheap, durable, and doesn’t react to the usual organisms that break down organic matter. This has made it incredibly useful for the packaging industry, but has also led to mountains of waste, like the trillion plastic bags dumped in landfills annually. Now, though, the fight against plastic might have an unexpected ally: a type caterpillar called the wax worm that loves to chow down on plastic bags.
The discovery of the wax worm’s previously unknown diet was made accidentally by Spanish researcher, Federica Bertocchini. Bertocchini is a part-time beekeeper, and is used to removing wax worms from her hives, where the caterpillars like to munch on the beeswax inside. After leaving a recently evicted troupe of wax worms in a plastic bag one day, Bertocchini found that the critters had munched their way to freedom.
Bertocchini was curious as to whether the centimeter-long wax worms were actively …