Welcome back to the Lab!
In honor of the holiday, we’re taking a look at how to give back to our native pollinators by building better bee houses! As we’ve learned in our Online Bug Encounters, native bees are important pollinators that are responsible for many of the foods we find on our Thanksgiving table. In fact, it is estimated that pollinators are responsible for 1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat! So here’s a quick and handy guide to helping out our native pollinators; be sure to thank a pollinator today and Happy Thanksgiving!
You’ve probably heard me mention “bee hotels” or “bee houses” at some point or another, whether it be a former Online Bug Encounter or Notes from the Lab. While keeping bee houses for solitary bees is much easier than a full beekeeping setup, it still requires some effort to keep your solitary bees healthy and parasite free. So here’s a handy guide with tips from the Xerces society and Colin Purrington, an entomologist and bee house enthusiast.
First and foremost, make sure your bee house is well-secured to whatever surface you attach it to. If the house is moving around in the wind or during inclement weather, the movement could knock the egg or larvae from their “pollen pillow.” Additionally, the bees have a hard time landing on moving objects.
Secondly, the house should be sheltered from the elements; you can attach an overhang to your bee home or simply hang it in a dry area with plenty of sun. On his website, Colin Purrington warns: “Moisture causes larvae to rot and also seems to cause kleptoparasitic pollen mites to flourish. If your house is fine except for the roof, get creative and attach one. Or stick it someplace that is under a pre-existing structure.”
When providing “tubes” or nesting cells for your bees, the material should be lightweight, breathable, and easy to remove and clean at the end of each bee season. Like us, bees respire, even when they’re in a pupal state. The water they exhale can build-up in a plastic or metal tubes and cause the pupae or pollen to rot.
When placing the nesting tubes, space them out adequately. In the wild, these bees would not be nesting within close proximity to each other, and tubes that are too close together can cause any diseases or parasites that are present to spread.
Most importantly, be sure to clean the bee house at the end of every season! The main goal of bee homes is to keep our native bees healthy and thriving, and without proper care, it can lead to unhealthy living conditions. It’s not quite as simple as hanging a bee house and simply walking away from it. Take care of your bees, and in return, they’ll take care of your garden.
For more info on building better bee homes, I highly recommend the following guides from both the Xerces Society and Colin Purrington:
- Nesting Resources (Xerces Society)
- Guide to building and managing a mason bee hotel
- The horrors of mass-produced bee houses (The title is a bit hyperbolic, but it’s a handy guide for what not to do)
Until next time, thanks for visiting the lab!
Bug Wrangler Brenna
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