Polyester bees: Born in a plastic bag

The early March sun warms exposed soil, triggering the emergence of male polyester bees, which swarm the ground, waiting for females to dig to the surface. The half-inch bees — also known as plasterer bees — mate while rolling on the ground or while flying, joined to each other in midair.

Unlike social honeybees, polyester bees are solitary. After mating, males fly off to finish their short lives sipping from freshly opened tree blooms. Each female works alone on her own nest, a foot-and-a-half-deep tunnel as wide as a pencil, dug straight down into the ground. Eggs are laid in pockets, or brood cells, dug into the sides of the tunnel.

Every night, the female digs out a new brood cell and lines the cell with polyester secreted from her abdomen. “She spreads it on the cell wall with her paintbrush-shaped tongue,” says Suzanne W.T. Batra, a retired USDA entomologist, who began studying solitary bees in the 1960s.

 Deb Chachra in Concrete-Printing Bees And Other Living 3D Printers

A still-unknown agent — maybe something in the bee’s saliva — reacts with the polyester, causing it to harden into a flexible waterproof plastic resembling cellophane.” “During the day, the female collects nectar and pollen and packs it into the cell along with some glandular material. She lays an egg, suspended over the food, and seals the cell with more polyester. “Closes it like a zip-lock bag,” says Batra. The bee plugs the cell entrance with soil, packing it down with the tip of her abdomen before starting to dig another cell.

Some people might be alarmed to find polyester bees swarming the grounds of their property.

Fear not, says Batra. “The bees rarely sting. You’d have to sit on one to get it to sting you.” Her advice: “Wait a month and they’ll go away on their own.” By mid-April, any remaining bees will be limping about on tattered wings. They won’t be seen again until larvae go through metamorphosis and emerge late next winter.

Pollinator Conservation on Small Farms by Nancy Adamson

A native alternative to honeybees

North America has 4,000 species of bees. Many lead solitary lives similar to that of the polyester bee. “Some are much better pollinators than honeybees,” says Batra, “and native bees aren’t affected by the parasites and diseases that are killing honeybees.”

But modern agriculture, with its vast fields, pesticides and scarce natural areas, doesn’t encourage fertilization by native bees. “You would need undisturbed areas nearby,” says Batra, “so that the bees could nest and fly out to the fields to pollinate.”

Bee plastic

Unlike some synthetic plastics, bee plastic is biodegradable. Batra tested that by burying a bunch of brood-cell linings, which disintegrated after five years.

A research group at Olin College of Engineering has been studying polyester bee plastic for several years: “Bio-plastics are only in the early stages of development,” says student researcher Shannon Taylor. “Our goal is to understand [bee plastic] well enough to create something similar ourselves.”

Related: Save the Honeybee, Sterilise the Earth; Creating Insect Habitats; Beneficial Insect Habitats; Insect Hotels

#biomimicry #bees #pollinators #pollination #agriculture

Our civilization is literally built on sand. People have used it for construction since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. In the 15th century, an Italian artisan figured out how to turn sand into transparent glass, which made possible the microscopes, telescopes, and other technologies that helped drive the Renaissance’s scientific revolution (also, affordable windows). Sand of various kinds is an essential ingredient in detergents, cosmetics, toothpaste, solar panels, silicon chips, and especially buildings; every concrete structure is basically tons of sand glued together with cement.

Sand—small, loose grains of rock and other hard stuff—can be made by glaciers grinding up stones, by oceans degrading seashells, even by volcanic lava chilling and shattering upon contact with air. But nearly 70 percent of all sand grains on Earth are quartz, formed by weathering. Time and the elements eat away at rock, above and below the ground, grinding off grains. Rivers carry countless tons of those grains far and wide, accumulating them in their beds, on their banks, and at the places where they meet the sea.

Apart from water and air, humble sand is the natural resource most consumed by human beings. People use more than 40 billion tons of sand and gravel every year. There’s so much demand that riverbeds and beaches around the world are being stripped bare. (Desert sand generally doesn’t work for construction; shaped by wind rather than water, desert grains are too round to bind together well.) And the amount of sand being mined is increasing exponentially.

Though the supply might seem endless, sand is a finite resource like any other. The worldwide construction boom of recent years—all those mushrooming megacities, from Lagos to Beijing—is devouring unprecedented quantities; extracting it is a $70 billion industry.


The Deadly Global War for Sand

By Vince Beiser in WIRED


First, students developed The Peddler, a sustainable fair-trade-coffee cart on two wheels. Then they came up with a new initiative that blends sustainability, cycling and do-it-yourself culture in an ingenious and delicious way. The bike blender is a student-made contraption that runs on—you guessed it—bicycle power, offering a sustainable, fun way for students to get their smoothie fix…

This is a brilliant project by Dickinson College students. Can I put in an advanced order for a blueberry smoothie in May??

More people are moving toward a plant-based diet, owing in part to evidence about human health and environmental sustainability, and in part to the emerging scientific consensus on the breadth and depth of animal consciousness and sentience.

But does this choice actually make a difference? Anthropology professor and 13.7 commentator Barbara J. King asks three animal rights activists. 

Does Being Vegan Really Help Animals?

Photo Credit: Mark Hammon/iStockphoto

"In America [alone] we discard over 146 billion cups from coffee consumption annually. Even when we think we are recycling and doing a good deed, the paper itself within these products can only be reused 2-3x before the fibers are unusable and discarded into local landfills without consumer’s knowing.

We have developed a post consumer paper based cup which will be able to extract over 1 ton of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually once planted. We have taken those fibers from local recycling centers, which would usually be too rough to implement back into a packaging product, and created a cup that we are happy to truly name the most eco friendly disposable coffee cup. If you decide to throw away and not plant, no problem. The cup is compost certified and will be able to biodegrade within 180 days leaving the seeds and cup itself to turn into nutrients for other plants to enjoy!”

The World’s First Plantable Coffee Cup | Kickstarter


3D-printed Snacks that Sprout Plants and Mushrooms

Food designer Chloé Rutzerveld has developed a concept for “healthy and sustainable” 3D-printed snacks that sprout plants and mushrooms for flavour.

The Edible Growth project fits the category “Food for Thought” and is partly created as a form of critical design. I want to show that high-tech food or lab-produced food does not have to be unhealthy, unnatural, and not tasteful. Edible Growth is an example of high-tech but fully natural, healthy, and sustainable food made possible by combining aspects of  nature, science, technology and design. Edible Growth shows real growth, an intensifying flavor and structure, makes smart use of natural processes like fermentation and photosynthesis and lowers the use of  resources. [ Source: Dezeen


The Eiffel Tower has new wind turbines, and they’re beautiful.

The Eiffel Tower’s iron-clad frame turned slightly greener last week, with the installation of two new wind turbines along its lower deck, perched some 400 feet above the ground. When they go into operation next week, the 17-foot structures will provide enough electricity to power the tower’s first-floor commercial areas — about 10,000kWh per year.

Solarpunk fashion

Some ponderings on clothing trends in a sustainable future.

  • Natural fabrics - Nanowoven textiles and smart fabrics are exciting, but not ubiquitous, and the post-oil age means a decline in artificial fibres. Sustainable textiles like wool, linen, jute and bamboo are the order of the day - hemp rather than cotton (the latter being notoriously demanding in terms of water, pesticides and fertiliser),  sheepskin rather than leather (cattle being more resource-intensive than sheep).
  • Natural colours - Many bright synthetic dyes also come from petrochemicals, so a sustainable future may see a shift to plant and animal dyes or a trend for leaving fabrics undyed entirely. Reds, oranges, browns and yellows are prevalent; blue, green and black reserved for smaller accents or accessories. [I stand corrected! Better-informed sustainable dye specifics here.]
  • Made to last - All clothing made with greater attention to quality and durability - better to have one really good garment than three or four inferior garments which - while cheaper or easier to make - won’t last as long. A good coat or pair of shoes could become an heirloom, lovingly-mended and handed down from one generation to the next.
  • Simple but versatile - In keeping with the idea of having a smaller number of long-lived garments, most fashion and adornment involves changing accessories rather than entire outfits. Relatively simple clothing serves as a canvas for imaginative use of jewelry and accessories to give different looks.
  • Style, not fashion - Rather than a rapid turnover of short-lived fads and fashions, trends in clothing are slower to shift and involve smaller, subtler changes that can be performed by adjusting the clothes you already own rather than having to entirely replace your wardrobe. Emphasis is placed on comfort, practicality, durability and quality of construction. Styles are deliberately atemporal rather than avant-garde.
  • Repaired, reclaimed, recycled - Many garments made from reclaimed fabrics, adapted from old clothes, and patched and darned to extend life as long as possible. “Refashioning” is popular.
  • Monoculture is death - There’s no single “solarpunk look” beyond a preference for the principles outlined above. What people wear is decided first of all by local environmental conditions and the availability of materials - for example, heavy insulating layers for cold climates and light, loose and flowing garments for hot climates. Some might have locally-grown homespun handmade outfits, others might have to wear things patched together from reclaimed scraps.

A good, educational weekend read from The Guardian, making the case for “regnerative agriculture” over the more industrial (but apparently trendy) idea of “geongineering:”

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.

But these methods are slow, expensive and impractical in feeding a growing population, right?

Wrong. While comprehensive statistics are hard to come by, yields from regenerative methods often exceed conventional yields (see here and here for scientific research, and here and here for anecdotal examples). Likewise, since these methods build soil, crowd out weeds and retain moisture, fertiliser and herbicide inputs can be reduced or eliminated entirely, resulting in higher profits for farmers. No-till methods can sequester as much as a ton of carbon per acre annually (2.5 tons/hectare). In the US alone, that could amount to nearly a quarter of current emissions.

The rest is here. Via Metafilter,

— rw