Bee Hotels Give Native Species a Place to Call Home

Across the Midwest, native habitat for wild bees is shrinking. Bee hotels could pose a solution.


A patchwork of bamboo and paper tubes, with diameters no bigger than a nickel, are stacked artfully inside a 4-by-4 wooden frame near the edge of a public hiking trail in Lawrence, Kansas.

Organized by size, each hollow tube is about 8 inches long, designed as nests for Kansas’ wild bees. This structure is called a bee hotel.

As concerns about diminishing honeybee populations continue to grow, North America’s 4,000 other species of native bees are also declining. In response, “bee hotels” are springing up all over North America and Europe.

Researchers hope bee hotels will not only preserve bee habitat, but allow further research on population decline.

“These bees naturally will be nesting in things like a dead log with beetle burrows that are hollowed out, and in hollow stems of plants,” says Daphne Mayes, a graduate student at the University of Kansas who studies wild bees. “So really, this structure is just trying to mimic the things that are found in nature for these organisms.”

The hotel is made for solitary bees that don’t swarm or have a hive like the more well-known honeybees and wasps. So there’s no queen, no workers–just a single bee and its larvae.

“Honeybees and bumblebees will not be nesting in a bee hotel because it’s not part of their life history,” Mayes says. “So what you will be finding are things like leafcutter bees…they cut pieces of leaves to line their nests. You’ll also find mason bees, which use mud to partition their nests.”

Each nest has repeating segments of nesting material, larvae, and pollen. Once the nest is full, the bee seals it off and moves on to another location. As more ground gets plowed under or paved over, bee hotels can ensure that bees have a place to live. While data on native bee populations are hard to pin down, the general decline in other pollinators is not. The number of Monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico is down by 90 percent. Last year, a federal survey found that beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies.

“I think that there is a lot of research going on right now focusing on native bees and things like these bee hotels,” Mayes says. “There are universities that are using these as a citizen science tool to document species that are found in different areas, and so I think that over time we’ll have a much better understanding of these native species, of their needs and how much they fluctuate.”

Researchers suspect a common class of pesticides called neonicotinoids are harmful to bees. Entomologist Charles Michener, who has studied bees for more than 80 years, says habitat loss is also hurting the insects.

063015_Bees_hotel_close“Of course there are other things like destruction of natural vegetation and when somebody destroys it, plows it up and plants in soybeans or something else like that, then the bees are left without their ordinary sources of food,” he says.

Michener says that without solitary bees–like those who will nest at the bee hotel, as well as other pollinators–our world would be very different.

“We wouldn’t have a great many kinds of plants that we have,” he says. “We wouldn’t have alfalfa for animal food. Fruits like almonds, apples, et cetera, we wouldn’t have. They just wouldn’t exist.”

And while the focus of recent federal protection seems to be on the honeybee and monarch butterfly, saving those species doesn’t solve the whole problem.

Many native and wild bees only get pollen from specific sources, and sometimes those sources can only be pollinated by only one type of bee. These are called specialist bees and include some of the bees that will be nesting in the bee hotel at the Kansas University field station.

“There are a lot of specialists and many of them are useful pollinators of plants we’re glad to have. People like evening primroses because they’re pretty,” Michener says. “And these specialist plants wouldn’t thrive, wouldn’t reproduce maybe, possibly not at all, if the specialist pollinator were extinct.”

 

This story was originally reported for KMUW and Harvest Public Media.

View Comments

  1. Renee Hailey
    Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    Have no doubt the genetically altered food that twenty seven other countries have banned plays a role! When will America wake up!!!
  2. Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    I read the entire post and am most interesting in building one of these bee hotels. If you could please supply me with just a bit more info on how to correctly build one of these, then I would start immediately. I live far out in the country, in the woods, in S.E. OHio and this excites me! So please, if you can, send me some info.? Thanks a bunch, Wm. Harold Jenkins.
  3. Danny Morgan
    Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    I had hives before high school and sold honey.
    I am 63 and always have had an interest in bees.
    There are so many different types in Va.
    Thank you for a picture of the hotel. I think I will also build one.
    Thanks Danny.
  4. mark s. hicks
    Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    Sure would like to get the bees restored around my house. Information would be appreciated.
  5. JP Cain
    Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    When the poisons sprayed on our farm crops for insects & weeds is stopped, out whole life on earth will improve. The bee hotels are such a good thing. Where old bldgs. were a place for bees, the Gov. has taxed those bldgs. , so people have torn them down. End of story.
  6. Monika Liedl
    Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    Suggestions on how to create one, will it work in the the cold mountains of Maine? Would be willing to try to create this, but need more info from someone that's done it.
    thank you
  7. SHARON DIGENNARO
    Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    I have hears of this idea. Is there any one in the Vian, Ok area that is familiar with this idea. Please contact me at my email sharon.kingston64@gmail.com
  8. Fascinating
    Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    Are there any programs for the general public to sponsor a hotel?
  9. Debra Stewart
    Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    Great idea... this could be a positive answer/solution to the huge problems that affect our bees. Well done :)
  10. Jennifer B
    Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    I would be happy to have one of these in my backyard in Topeka.
  11. M Hopkins
    Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    We saw several of these bee hotels in local backyards in Germany in 2013. Most were not very big. The declining bee population is taken very seriously in Europe. I took photos so that I can build my own. I would love to see commercially-available kits at local bigbox stores.
  12. Bettie
    Saturday, July 11th, 2015
    How can I help the bees in Oregon?
  13. RettaJane
    Sunday, July 12th, 2015
    These are great,hope it catches on.
    .. Round-up-Weed & Bee Killer!
  14. noel
    Sunday, July 12th, 2015
    Can i have the detail lay out and measurement of the bee hotel? i wish to make one in our farm in the philippines, prsence of wildbees are alse noted in the area. thanks and more power
  15. Kevin Hester
    Monday, July 13th, 2015
    What a brilliant, altruistic antidote to colony collapse and bee die offs, good people knowing how important to our survival bee's are
    https://www.facebook.com/notes/kevin-hester/bee-die-offs-and-how-they-will-effect-us-read-the-comment-section-for-many-more-/10202929767977885
  16. Monday, July 13th, 2015
    What a wonderful idea! It's been estimated that without pollination by bees, 100,000 species of plants would disappear. I've seen small 'home kits' for mason bees, but nothing on this scale!

    Mike.
  17. Eric Baker
    Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
    how about the methodology and plans to build our own hotels so we can help?
  18. Bill Cutler
    Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
    It would be best to mount some chicken wire or something similar a few inches out to cover the front and make it protected from birds that will just use this as a feeding station! Give those large a chance to grow up!
  19. Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
    The design (blueprints) and the theory to build this Native Bee house, would either make a great book or fundraiser. If either is available I would sign up. I would love to build the Beehouse.

    Thanks,
    Doug
  20. Margaret
    Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
    Wonderful