Pollinator Structures

Pollinator walls, bee towers, and insect hotels

It seems that everyone is building for the bees these days, from private citizens, to transportation departments, to architectural design firms. The proliferation of bug structures, no matter how humble or how grand, indicates that humans are finally getting it: insects need a place to live too. As we cover more and more of the earth’s surface with buildings, roads, airports, and crops, it becomes vitally important to provide living quarters for the insects that serve us.

The structures are as varied as the insects that inhabit them. They may be smaller than a birdhouse or may cover the side of two-story building. They may be designed to attract bees, potter wasps, other pollinating insects, or even vertebrate pollinators like hummingbirds and bats. Some offer housing to non-pollinating beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings. The options are endless and the designs are original and creative.

Germany seems to be the leader in bug structures, followed closely by Great Britain. Because those countries are small compared to places like Canada, the United States, and Australia, they were quick to realize the importance of coexisting with the beneficial insects and the need to provide shelter for them in the built environment. The insects use the habitat for shelter, safety, nesting, raising young, and finding food.

A feature that distinguishes walls, towers, and hotels from structures like mason bee condos or bumble bee nests is the wide variety of nesting choices. Pollinator walls may contain hollow reeds, wood with pre-drilled tunnels, cracked or drilled masonry, straw bundles, rolled corrugated board, clustered stones, or dry leaves. The “invertebrate habitat” shown below was built by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. It contains many types of habitat and was built completely from recycled materials.

Invertebrate Habitat by Cheshire Wildlife Trust

The next photo shows the winner of the 2010 Beyond the Hive Competition in London. This “bug hotel” was built by Arup Associates and is designed to encourage many types of invertebrate inhabitants.

Insect hotel by Arup Associates.

If you decide to build your own habitat, here are some important issues:

  • The structure should be in an area sheltered from bright sun and high wind, such as close to a building or under a shady tree. If you hope to attract some native bees, at least past of the structure should be in the sun.
  • Insects need water, so a reliable supply such as a pond or creek should be nearby. Alternatively, you can provide an artificial source–just don’t let it run dry.
  • Many solitary bees and wasps need a source of mud.
  • The fill material should be varied in type (stones, masonry, dead leaves, reeds, wood, twigs) and have many little cracks and crannies, nooks and crevices.
  • The design must be structurally sound so it doesn’t topple from wind, rain, or snow. If you live in an earthquake zone, keep the structure low and wide instead of tall and narrow.

Structures don’t have to be large. The one shown below is small enough to become part of the garden. This was an entry in the Beyond the Hive competition by Helaba Landesbank Hessen-Thueringen.

Small but effective.

The possibilities for building insect habitat are endless and can satisfy the artist in you. So give it a try. If you like, send me a photo and I’ll post it here on this site.

Pollinator housing attached to a building. Photo by Wildbienen.