Insects are one of the most diverse and widely occurring animal groups and have a crucial part in any ecosystem. They are at the base of any food chain and provide food for birds, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals. They also play an important role in the life of the plants and enable the pollination in many plant species. Additionally, the interactions between insect species are the basis of biological pest control and help stabilise their population numbers.
However, insects don’t have it easy in the modern world. Many resources that they select for feeding, nesting and reproduction come in very short supply. Open sandy patches, flower meadows, dry wood debris or tree hollows are quite a rarity in our increasingly neat and functional surroundings. On top of that come many exotic species of flowering plants that we are cultivating in our gardens, and which are often not suitable for the feeding needs of the local insect species. Weakened insect populations become more exposed to diseases and parasites and their numbers decrease. Add to this the widespread use of unspecific pesticides in agriculture and you will have a nearly full picture of insect distress.
Steeply deceasing numbers of bees in Europe have put these problems high on the priority list. The main solutions include limiting anthropogenic pressure on insect populations and their key habitats and providing them with more space and resources.
One of the things that one can commonly see these days is an insect hotel. I have seen many of them in Germany in Switzerland but it was only recently that I came across one that was really buzzing with life. That made me think what is it that makes an insect hotel a success?
As I have suspected the issue is not so simple. Here I have collected some tips from professional entomologists. See source article for more detail.
- It is important to know what insects are you going to host. Many species have conflicting or mutually exclusive needs (sunny or shady, at the ground level or high above, humid or dry etc.). Some might find your location unsuitable. So chose wisely where you can make the best positive impact.
- Small hotels are better than big ones. Overpopulation promotes easier spread of diseases and parasites.
- Better build your own hotel than buy at the store. Only in this way you can guaranty the quality of materials used and the safety of the future inhabitants. It is important to use natural untreated materials (no varnish, paint and wood protectant; avoid plastic). Take care with detail. If you drill tubes into wood, make sure they are smooth and without splinters. Otherwise an insect can get hurt. Good rain protection is also very important.
- The insect hotel should be well located and fixed. It should not sway in the wind.
- Maintain and replace when it is time. At the end of the season it is recommended to clean the hotel. This will prevent mould and mites that would multiply on the dead bees or larvae. Without timely maintenance and clean-up, a once-occupied insect hotel may not attract a new batch next season. Insect hotels can degrade naturally after two or more years because the material used is untreated. Change the nesting blocks or parts every two years to avoid build-up of mould, mites and parasites.
- The insects are much more probable to get attracted to a location where food resources are abundant. So a garden featuring native flower species rich in nectar and pollen is of great help.
- Be careful while tending your garden. Look out for ground nests of mining bees, bumblebees and beneficial wasps before mowing or mulching your garden. It is easier to protect existing ground nests than to artificially create one.
- Do not use pesticides. It is simply counterproductive.
Soon I will try to make an insect hotel of my own and share my results with you. Bellow is a picture of the liveliest hotel I have seen until now. And the vicinity. I think that location is really a great part of success.