A whisper from the woods

Ask me (almost) anything, May 2023

May 15, 2023

One of our community members, Manny Jooste from Kirkwood, South Africa, asked a question regarding a “bug hotel”. Considering that World Bee Day is on May 20 and International Day for Biological Diversity is on May 22, Manny wanted to know how he can improve insect habitat and biodiversity in his garden. He has seen “bug hotels” and wanted to know if this is a good idea.

Mark starts by reminding us that his response takes a typical Australian view, with some examples. “As with all discussions, there are two sides to all issues, I have tried to find a small positive way through.” Mark says.

 

Helping insects in the best way possible.

Improving habitat for insects is a key factor in improving overall ecological health. Most people think of planting trees and shrubs, and flowers for flying insects like bees, wasps, and flies.

But, many insects require small spaces to escape predation from other insects. Whatever we can do to make sensible changes to our local environment is worthwhile, but we must be sure not to create unintended results.

For example, in Australia, we are currently experiencing a huge natural increase in different types of insects due to a wet spring last year and a mild summer. There is an explosion in introduced European wasps. These feral wasps cause a lot of problems for our native species, as they have no natural predators to biologically control them. They compete with our native bees for food and nectar sources. The wasps overwinter in wood piles and came out very hungry in spring!

We have about 300 species of native bees in Australia and only a handful live in big hives. These beautiful, small creatures are not aggressive and most do not sting. They are defenseless against the foreign wasp. Mostly, they live solitary lives and only a few produce any sort of honey.

If we look around us, we can see instances where there are natural-occurring places where these bees can live happy, safe lives. So, the best thing to do is to leave these places, such as old tree stumps or trunks, undisturbed.

Some native bees in Victoria, Australia

 

Recent interest in insect ecology, especially from young school children, has resulted in the marketing of insect “hotels” as an option to create safe refuges for beneficial insects. These can be fun to make and observe, and can be a valuable educational tool. The sense of discovery is really important, and a great way to learn about nature.

A commercial insect “hotel”

Artificially drilling some small holes in an old tree branch might be the quickest and easiest method to create some safe homes for the bees, especially if the tree is one that they naturally use for collecting flower nectar and pollen in spring.

Recently, I read a short internet article about Wood Borer insect holes, a wasp, and a spider. Wood Borer insect holes are very common in the bark of gum trees in our forests. These holes make ideal places for the native wasp species to place their newly-laid eggs. The wasp was observed catching a spider nearby and pushing the captive spider into the borer holes. The newly hatched wasps would then have a ready-made food source to begin their lives.

A natural insect “hotel” and residents.

To conclude, Mark reminds us that we should be aware of how the insect world behaves. It’s a tough life being an insect and life can be short. Having a safe place to hide is essential! If we could help the native bees and insects find safe homes, then we are making the right decisions.

Thank you for helping us understand more about the habitats of insects, Mark. This empowers us to help insects in a mindful way. We appreciate learning from you!

Are you also creating a habitat for insects in your garden? Please tell us about it! We would like to learn about your methods and the insects you have in your region / country. Share your comments below, and send us your photos to hello@plantgrowsave.org 

Samples of man-made insect habitats:

 

Please share this. Thank you!

2 Comments

  1. Kika Gusmao

    Thank you for sharing this information with us!

    So, if we make these bug hotels, we might be benefiting both native and invasive species. Is that it?

    Reply

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