Looking for a fun craft and a way to support your local ecosystem?
Check out this guide to learn more about insect hotels and why they matter, including how to make your own.
Presented by Gateway Nature Preserve and Mixxer Community Makerspace
What is an insect hotel, and why would you want to build one?
Insect hotels are structures that replace lost habitat and provide nesting areas for bee species that lay their eggs in cavities, either in trees or in hollow plant stems.
Insect hotels for BEES are important for three reasons:
- Bees are the most efficient of all pollinators.
- Bee populations have been hurt by pesticides designed to kill insects that eat farm crops. Unfortunately, the pesticides kill pollinators like bees, along with the bad bugs.
- Many native bees lay their eggs in plant stems. So when we clean up all the dead plants in our yard in the fall, the pollinators don’t have any place to lay their eggs.
So when you build an insect hotel, you are making a nesting area for the bees that otherwise wouldn’t have a place to live!
Fun fact: There are more than 500 bee species in North Carolina! And in the US, there are more than 4,000 bee species!
Social or solitary?
Bees fall roughly into two categories: social bees and solitary bees.
Social bees live in colonies. The social bees you probably know are honeybees; they live in hives and care for their young. Because they have so many babies to protect, social bees are very protective of their home and may sting if they think you are attacking their nest.
Solitary bees live alone. They lay their eggs in cavities or hollow stems. Because they don’t have a home to protect, they are not aggressive. Insect hotels serve solitary bees like mason bees and orchard bees, who lay their eggs in hollow stems and sometimes cavities in trees. Because these bees don’t defend their eggs after depositing them, they won’t sting you. This makes insect hotels for mason bees, orchard bees, and other types a great way to support pollinators at home without worrying about safety.
To Drill or Not to Drill?
Here are two types of insect hotels you can make with easily available materials. One is for dedicated DIY folks who have a drill handy, the other is great for younger children.
Log or Wood Block Insect Hotel
- A log or block of wood, 6-8” thick
- A squarish board for a roof, a few inches bigger than the end of the log or wood block
- power drill and drill bits (1/4” and 5/16”, and as long as possible)
- long screws
- heavy rope (to attach the hotel on a stable support)
- Choose the face of the log or wood block where you will drill holes.
- Mark position of holes with marker. You can make symmetrical rows, or create your own pattern. Just be sure the holes are about 1 inch apart.
- Drill holes, using the 1/4” bit for half of the holes, the 5/16” for the other half. Make them as deep as possible—at least 6 inches.
- Place the board on top of the log or block so it forms a “roof” over the top of the log. Drill guide holes and screw the board onto the hotel.
- Decide where your hotel will go; this will determine how to attach it. Choose a sunny, preferably south or south-east facing location, and near flowering plants where the bees will be collecting pollen. It should be attached to a solid structure.
- If you attach it to a fence, you may be able to drill holes in the fence and attach the hotel with screws. If you want to attach it to a tree, screw two nails in each side of the log, leaving about ¾” of the screw exposed. Hold the hotel up to the tree, use the screws to hold the rope, tie it tightly to the tree.
Hollow Tube Hotel
- 3 clean tin cans
- 2 boards for a roof (aluminum food trays are also an option)
- Hot glue gun or strong epoxy glue
- Hollow plant stems (see below)
- Hammer and nails
- Duct tape
- Collect bamboo from an abandoned lot, or stems of plants such as pokeweed, blackberry canes, or elderberry bushes (pith inside is okay). Cut them in 6-8” lengths.
- Bind the cans together in a pyramid with duct tape or the hot glue gun.
- Fill the cans with the stems. Use stems with different size openings, between ¾” and ½”. Fill the can tightly so the stems are secure; you can use small twigs to fill in the gaps. If the stems stick out at different lengths, that’s okay—it will help the bees find their own nest as they go back and forth while laying eggs.
- Hammer the boards together at a right angle to make a pitched roof (see photo above). Attach with glue to the cans.
- If it’s easier, use an aluminum baking tray that you can fold into a peaked roof, and glue or tape it to the cans.
- Nestle firmly in a fork in a tree or shrub.
What Happens Next?
Check your insect hotel every few days for bee activity. When a bee has finished laying eggs, she will fill the opening of the stem or cavity with mud to protect them. You may also check whether the bees choose one hole size over another.
Learn More about Pollinators and Insect Hotels
There are many styles of insect hotels to choose from, from simple to very elaborate. Research has shown that the simpler, the better. (More complex hotels tend to attract non-beneficial insects and bee predators.) To learn more, check out the Xerces Society, a national organization dedicated to protecting pollinators. It has many guides to improving pollinator habitat through plants, agricultural practices and more. Watch this video from NC State for more information.
Want to build your own Insect Hotel?
Join an Insect Hotel Workshop with Gateway Nature Preserve and Mixxer
Saturday, April 24, 9AM - 12PM
Register at: https://mixxer.wildapricot.
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