CCSS: 6.RP.A.3.C

TEKS: 6.5B

Waste-Eating Worm

USGS/Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

A hungry caterpillar could be the key to making problematic plastics more eco-friendly. Many plastics take decades to break down, but small caterpillars called wax worms might be able to speed up the process.

Federica Bertocchini, a biologist at the University of Cantabria in Spain, observed a colony of wax worms eating holes in a plastic bag and wondered how the animals were able to digest the material. She ran laboratory tests and found that wax worms’ bodies can chemically break down polyethylene, the type of plastic the bag was made from. The next step, she says, is to learn exactly how wax worms break down the material and then re-create the reaction in the lab.