Vacancy at the Insect Hotel

by Charlie Grindstaff

I try to make my garden insect friendly because I love to watch birds and many of them love to eat insects. But more importantly insects are essential for pollination and actually eat other pests which eat my vegetables. An average garden can hold over 2,000 different species of insects very few of which cause significant damage to our flowers, fruit and vegetables. By providing the right habitat near our garden we can greatly increase the number of beneficial insects that help us control those pests. Some invertebrates, such as bumblebees and solitary bees, are declining in numbers, so by providing homes we can contribute to their conservation.

I was shown a picture of an insect hotel by a Master Naturalist friend and immediately knew I wanted one for my garden.  Type “insect hotel” into your search engine to see an incredible array of hotel designs from wood pallet to shoe box sizes.  Basically they are a wooden box with dividers to create “rooms” which you “furnish” with a variety of materials to attract insects and provide hibernation and/or nesting spaces.  My husband and I built our “hotel” using a discarded wooden dresser drawer. Using recycled materials, the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter members built two insect hotels for the butterfly garden at Mockingbird Nature Park in Midlothian.

We furnished one room with dead wood for the larvae of wood-boring beetles, fungi, millipedes and woodlice, all of  which help break down the woody material. They are essential parts of the garden recycling system. We filled some rooms with cut bamboo pieces to attract solitary bees, who do not usually produce honey or sting but all are excellent pollinators. The female bee lays an egg on top of a mass of pollen at the end of a hollow tube such as a piece of bamboo or a hole drilled into a block of wood.  She then seals the entrance with a plug of mud. A long tube can hold several such cells. Holes of different diameters mean many different species can be accommodated. Bees seal their egg chambers with dried mud or bits of leaf. Another room held dry leaves to mimic the litter on the forest floor and provide homes for a variety of invertebrates.  A room furnished with rolled up corrugated cardboard is perfect for lacewings and their larvae who consume large numbers of aphids, as well as other garden pests.  Ladybugs and their larvae, the champion aphid-munchers, need dry sticks or leaves in which to hide. Other rooms contain stems, twigs, seed heads, pine cones, wood shavings, lichen, and broken clay flower pots.

As with all habitats, location is a critical factor.  A semi shady site with the tubes for bees on the sunniest side is optimal.  Putting the hotel close to other wildlife features, such as shrubbery or a pond is also helpful.

So the vacancy sign is out, just stop on in, no reservation required at our insect hotel.

Indian Trail Master Naturalist members and one of the insect hotels they built.
Indian Trail Master Naturalist members and one of the insect hotels they built.

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