Bee hotels, also known as bee nests or bee houses are small structures designed to attract native solitary bees. Most people think that all bees live in hives, when in fact, this only applies to honey bees. In fact, of the 20,000 species of bees that we currently know about, 70% of them live in underground nests. Unlike honey bees, native bees lead solitary lives. They seek shelter in small underground burrows, cracks in the ground, tree hollows, and other natural hideouts.
Ok, so native bees don’t build hives, but why do they need bee hotels? Much of the natural habitat inhabited by native bees has disappeared over the past century. The world as we know it has 97% less wildflower-rich meadows than it did 60 years ago. Factors like climate change, intensive farming, and pesticides are to blame for native bees loosing their homes and are facing extinction. But with a little effort and creativity, we can lend a helping hand to our native bees. By building bee hotels, we can offer them safe places to make nests.
Native bees are solitary and do not produce honey, but they have an important role to play in our ecosystem. More specifically, solitary bees pollinate native plants that are not pollinated by honey bees.
Furthermore, if you are a bit worried about attracting wild bees to your garden, we have great news. Native bees are less aggressive and don’t usually have any reasons to sting humans because they don’t have a hive to defend.
Some species of solitary bees carry out a different type of pollination known as buzz pollination or ‘sonication’. Including bee species such as the Andrena Carantonica or Bombus Terrestris. This type of pollination is very important for many different plants. This includes Solanum plants (eggplant, tomato, potato, Solanum cinereum), Guinea flowers, Rhododendron, Heath, and even blueberries and cranberries.
Curious to learn more about bee hotels and attracting these beneficial insects to your garden? This guide is about helping you help bees! Bee hotels are great when built correctly, but they can hurt bees if done incorrectly. Keep reading to find out how to do it right.
Quick Facts about Australian Native Bees:
- There are three main types of native bees. Social (stingless bees), semi-social (Reed Bees, Great Carpenter Bees and Metallic Carpenter Bees), and solitary (Blue Banded Bees and Leafcutter Bees). Semi-social bees and solitary bees love bee hotels.
- Both social and semi-social bees collect pollen to feed their offspring. Some species carry the pollen on their legs and others swallow it. You can attract bees to your garden by planting plenty of native flowering plants and shrubs.
- We currently know of over 1,700 species of Australian native bees and just 11 of them are stingless.
- 10% of all Australian native bees form hives and lead social lives. These bees have a queen, worker bees, and male drones which fertilize the queen. All native honey bees of Australia are stingless. The other 90% of Australian native bees can sting and don’t build hives.
- Australian native bees will use a bee hotel making them great guests in your garden. With the exception of stingless honey bees.
- Teddy bear bees, blue-banded bees, and carpenter bees are known for buzz pollination. This type of pollination consists of producing vibrations that move the pollen more effectively. Breaking the little capsules where it is stored.
- During the warm summer months, native bees are pretty much everywhere, so you can’t miss them no matter in which part of Australia you live.
Bee Hotels Introduction
Now that you know a few things about your guests, it’s time to learn more about the hotels. There are many different types of bee hotels available on the market, from simple ones that cost as little as $2, to large, ornate condominiums. It is important to mention right off the bat that when it comes to bee hotels, more lavish doesn’t always mean better. Large bee hotels can attract predators and become breeding grounds for pests. These problems can make your local bees even more vulnerable.
As mentioned above, even the most well-designed bee hotels can become unhealthy homes when they are improperly managed. And even bee hotels that are made by the book might attract wasps and other insects — and that’s OK because that’s how nature works. If that happens, there is no need to worry. Instead, you can start thinking of your bee hotel as being an insect hotel instead. All is well as long as diseases are kept at bay through regular maintenance.
Benefits of Having Bee Hotels in Your Garden
A bee hotel will attract native bees that will pollinate the native wildflowers that you grow in your garden. Even certain vegetables require pollination from native bees. Solitary bees carry dry pollen on their legs and abdomen, thus pollinating a lot of flowers than social bees, who carry moistened pollen. In addition to that, solitary and semi-social native bees can pollinate plants through buzz pollination which is essential for eggplants, tomatoes, and blueberries.
Bee hotels help us learn more about the environment and about the native flora and fauna. They make great educational tools for young and old alike. If you want to teach your kids about the fascinating life of bees and their important role in the ecosystem, a bee hotel is a perfect tool. However, don’t forget to be careful around bees, because even though solitary and semi-social native bees are not aggressive, they still have the ability to sting. So, it’s best to avoid grabbing, sitting, or stepping on them. Extra care is required if you or a family member is allergic. Other than that, bees are perfectly safe and most of the native ones are too small to cause any real discomfort through stinging.
Helping Native Bees
The fact that our honeybees are dying is a common misconception. The honey bee is doing just fine. Furthermore, they are out-competing the native and beneficial species of bees. And that is not the only reason why native bees need our help. Agriculture, habitat loss, and urbanization have all led to the endangerment of native bees. The good news is that you can make a difference by creating a welcoming ecosystem in your garden. In fact, Bee hotels are a great way to lend a helping hand but don’t forget to grow native flowers as well.
Bee Hotels – to Buy or Build
Building a bee hotel can be a great DIY project and an educational and fun family activity. If you love spending time in your garage fixing and building things, you won’t have any problems making your own bee hotel based on your preferences.
Here you will find a complete guide to building your own bee hotel in the next chapter. But first, we’re going to go through a few options for those who don’t have a lot of free time on their hands and prefer to buy a ready-made bee hotel.
Some facts to think of bee-fore diving in
Before you choose a ready-made bee hotel or a design for your next DIY project, there are a few important things that you need to know.
- The European Honeybee is an important species with commercial value. It is also where our honey comes from. Unfortunately, this social bee has also gone wild and it is quite common to encounter feral nests in the bush all over the Australian continent. It is one of the most common bee species that gardeners notice, but its presence in the wild is harmful to the native bees.
- A bee hotel is meant to encourage and help native bees, so it’s best to avoid attracting honey bees to your garden.
- Native bees love hollow plant stems, so you will probably notice that a lot of bee hotels are made of cardboard tubes or other similar materials.
- When looking to buy a bee hotel, make sure you choose one that protects the insects from the elements and from other insects.
- Native bees tend to be solitary, which means that they don’t live in large colonies as honey bees do. Solitary bees prefer to nest underground, or in other natural hideouts and to complete their life cycle alone. Although most solitary bees don’t make honey or store pollen, some of them do, in order to survive winter.
- There are thousands of different species of native bees and they can vary in size quite a lot. If you want to attract a certain type of bee, make sure the holes of the hotel match the size of the bee. If, however, you want to attract a variety of bees, your bee hotel will need to have different hole sizes.
Consider this when buying a bee hotel
- It is highly recommended to choose a hotel that has holes smaller than 10mm because otherwise, your guests will be bothered by unwanted critters. Also, the bee hotel should be deeper than 15cm because most native female bees love to nest at the back. Shorter bee hotels might only attract males.
- Another important aspect to consider when choosing a bee hotel is the material. Experts advise against choosing one made of plastic or glass.
- In a bee hotel, the ideal length of the tubes/tunnels is between 15 cm and 20 cm, and they should always be placed horizontally and with one end closed.
- The tubes/tunnels of a bee hotel need to be replaced yearly, so it’s best to keep that in mind and choose a bee hotel design with tubes that are easy to replace. The life-cycle of your guests should be complete by spring, so you can replace the tubes in April or May when the next generation arrives.
Best Bee Hotels that You can Buy Online
Ok, so you are keen to go ahead? Here are some of our favourite options, from simple and affordable, to lavish.
Sometimes, it’s better to choose several tiny bee houses, than a large bee hotel. The smaller the bee house, the fewer the problems that you might encounter. So, if you’re looking to buy your first bee hotel, why not start small? These tiny bee homes are designed to attract non-aggressive solitary bees and you can choose your favourite colours.
You can find this bee hotel on Etsy, where it has hundreds of positive reviews. It is affordable, handmade, eco-friendly, and according to the seller, will attract solitary bees like mason, orchard, leaf-cutter, aphid or carpenter bees.
This bee hotel is another affordable, yet stylish option. If you’re looking for something more modern than the previous option, which is a bit more rustic, this is the perfect alternative. This wild bee hotel makes a great and unique gift and it is made by hand using only natural materials.
If you want to attract different types of insects, and to observe their life cycles, this deluxe bee and insect hotel is a great option. This hotel features a variety of nesting places, and it will certainly attract all sorts of bugs, insects, and native bees. Not a great option if you want to attract only solitary bees, but great as an experiment and educational tool.
Another great option is this bug hotel, similar to the one listed above, but with a slightly ‘wilder’ design. We like this insect hotel because it looks really cool, but it’s worth mentioning that it is not specially designed for bees, so it will probably attract all sorts of insects.
We did promise that we’d share some lavish and more expensive options, and this is a great example of a 5-star bee hotel. It is colourful, fun, and perfect to make your children more interested in learning about bees. It can also be a source of inspiration for a future DIY project.
What makes a good bee hotel?
A good bee hotel should have holes that are smaller than 12 mm in diameter. It should also be made of natural materials and tubes that can be replaced and cleaned easily, and should have a roof that protects the contents of the hotel from rain and snow.
What makes a bad bee hotel?
A bad bee hotel is made of plastic, glass, or other materials that are not eco-friendly. It would also have holes that are too big. In addition, it wouldn’t have a back wall, has splinters, and contains wood chips, straw, and pinecones. Simply, any other natural materials that may attract all sorts of insects and pests.
Building Your Own Bee Hotel
When it comes to bee hotels, there are a few key rules that you need to consider, but other than that, you can let your imagination run wild. Furthermore, if this is your first DIY project, you can start with a simple and easy design. If you are more experienced, you can put your architect hat on and create a stylish and creative design. In Fact, it is up to you and the best thing is that bees will be happy either way as long as you provide them with safe tunnels that have the right length and width.
To make things easier for you, we’ve created a step by step guide to building your own bee hotel.
Step 1 – Figure Out What Bees Are in Your Area
In Summer, native bees are pretty much everywhere, so spotting them won’t be very difficult. In fact, you can observe their size, shape, colours, and answer the following useful questions:
- Is it a bee? There are certain wasps and flies that look quite similar to native bees. In fact, hoverflies are commonly mistaken for bees but you can easily tell them apart by looking closely at their antennae, eyes, wings, and legs.
- Is it a native bee? The Australian bush has many foreign inhabitants when it comes to bees as there are several species of overseas out-competing the native ones. For instance, in NSW you can find South African Carder Bees and Mediterranean Emerald Furrow Bees, in QLD you can find Asian Honeybees and South African Carder Bees, and the European Honeybees are present all over the continent.
- What type of native bee is it?
- Around 16,000 native bee species call Australia home and 200 of them can be found in the Greater Western Sydney region. Australian native bees come in many different colours, shapes, and sizes. Some can be tiny, around 2 mm in length, while some can be as large as 24mm. Some are smooth and shiny, and others are furry with thick hairs. The smallest bees in Australia are the Quasihesma Bees measuring just 2mm, while the largest are the Great Carpenter Bees Xylocopa that can be between 17mm and 26mm.
Once you’ve found one or more species of bees in your area, and you’re certain that they are, in fact, native bees, you can use the list below to identify them.
The most common types of native Australian bees are:
Stingless Bees (Austroplebeia and Tetragonula)
Australian stingless bees are small between 3mm and 5mm, and black. These bees are social insects that produce honey. Furthermore, they live in large nests with a queen, worker bees, and males, so they do not use bee hotels. Australian stingless bees don’t have a sting and they build resinous nests inside hollow trees. In cities, they also build nests in walls or in other concrete structures and they can, of course, be kept in hive boxes. Lastly native honeybees are the only species of native bees that are available for sale at local beekeepers. If you live in QLD, NT, or NSW, you are probably familiar with these bees.
Teddy Bear Bees (Amegilla)
In Australia, there are about 25 species of teddy bear bees. These cute insects are furry and brown and they are medium in size (between 7 mm and 15 mm). You can find teddy bear bees nesting in soft soil burrows and even under houses and other structures. In fact, several teddy bear bees might build nests in the same location, but each female will build her own nest. The Dawson’s Burrowing Bee is a very large teddy bear bee native to Western Australia. Furthermore, these bees can reach 20mm in length and they nest in large groups of up to 10,000 individuals in mudflats and arid claypans.
Green Carpenter Bees
There are two species of green carpenter bees in Australia – Xylocopa (Lestis) aeratus and Xylocopa (Lestis) bombilans. In fact, Xylocopa (Lestis) aeratus can be found in the Brisbane region. While the Xylocopa (Lestis) bombilans is native to Southern Australia. These spectacular bees look quite similar, they have a green, yellow, and blue metallic tint. Their hind legs are black and furry making it easier for them to carry pollen. They make small burrows in softwood, grass trees, and flower stalks.
Blue Banded Bees (Amegilla)
There are 15 species of blue banded bees native to the Australian continent. These bees are important pollinators for greenhouse tomatoes. They are 8 to 13 mm in length and have black abdomens with blue or white shiny stripes. If you have lavender or abelias in your garden, chances are you’ve already seen these cute insects darting around. Similarly to other native bees, blue-banded bees build their own nests in soft mortar and mud brick structures and like to live in groups.
Resin Bees (Megachile)
There are over 100 species of resin bees in Australia and they come in many sizes and colours. For instance, some resin bees are small (8mm), black, with bright orange abdomens while others are large (14mm) and have white tufts of hair.
(About 100 Australian species). Resin bees can be found nesting in small holes in wooden structures and stonework. They got their name due to their habit of collecting resins and gums to seal their nest holes. According to local beekeepers, resin bees have a tendency to ‘borrow’ resin from unsuspecting stingless bees. Resin bees are common guests in bee hotels.
Reed Bees (Exoneura and Braunsapis)
Australia is home to over 80 species of reed bees, which are around 8 mm long and have slender black bodies. Some reed bees have a red abdomen and some have a yellow patch on their head. They like to use dead Lantana canes, pithy twigs of plants such as blackberries and raspberries, and tree ferns as nesting grounds.
Leafcutter Bees (Megachilidae)
There are 40 different species of leafcutter bees that can be found on the Australian continent, and they are all quite amazing. In Fact, Leafcutter Bees have 6mm to 15mm bodies and they have a rather unusual habit. Leafcutter bees were discovered by bee watchers thanks to the neat circular cuts that they make on leaves. Leafcutter bees use pieces of leaves to build nests. Their favourite plants are Buddleja and Bauhinia.
Australia is home to 40 species of Homalictus bees, most of them being rather small (less than 8mm). But despite their small size, Homalictus bees are quite dazzling and they come in many different colours: red and gold, green and purple, coppery red, golden blue, etc. Female Homalictus bees live together in intricate branching nests and they take turns guarding the entrance. Furthermore, scientists have found a Homalictus bees nest that was inhabited by more than 160 females.
Masked Bees (Amphylaeus, Hylaeus, and Meroglossa)
Masked bees are another important category of native Australian bees. With over 150 different species, it’s safe to say that the chances of noticing them in your garden are quite high. Masked bees are usually smaller than 10mm, they have slender black bodies, and have pale markings on their bodies that resemble tiny masks. Masked bees don’t have a lot of hairs, so they transport pollen by swallowing it. Their nesting grounds consist of pre-existing holes in wood and pithy stems. An interesting thing about masked bees is that they secrete a cellophane-like substance and use it to weave their brood cells.
Step 2 – Choose a Bee Hotel Design
Now that you know all about your native bees, it’s time to put your architect hat on and start designing their future home. You can get inspiration from the hotel designs that we listed above, or you can choose one of the following DIY projects.
Large bee hotels can be too much work and they can even attract unwanted guests. Besides, if this is your first DIY project, it’s best to start small. Kate’s bee hotel is a great choice. It’s light, easy to build, mount, and maintain, and it encourages bees to nest at lower densities, without being bothered by other insects, pests, or diseases. You can also check out Kate Bradbury’s Bee Hotel Youtube tutorial for a more complex design.
Brian Barth’s bee hotel is an ambitious, but very cool project. The main goal of Brian’s bee hotel is to attract as many solitary bees as possible. Whether it’s mason bees, fuzzy yellow bees, carder bees, or leafcutters, they are all more than welcome in this spacious hotel. According to Brian, a very good name for this project would be ‘communal bees’ because these insects, although solitary, still like to live in close proximity to each other, just like humans do. So, to create the ideal living space for them, you’re going to need screws, an electric drill, scraps of lumber, and plenty of bamboo tubes.
This bee hotel is another great option. It’s made of natural materials, it looks cute, it is suitable for balconies, roofs, and gardens of any size, and you can find a very detailed step by step building guide on the website. According to the website, this project should take a few hours, and the difficulty level is medium. So, if this is not your first time building something, you’ll surely handle this project.
Bee Hotel Youtube Tutorials
- Simple Upcycled DIY Bee Hotel Tutorial
- Growit Buildit Bee Hotel
- Avon Wildlife Trust Bee Hotel
- Easy Solitary Bee Hotel
- Simple Bee Hotel
- Stylish Bee Hotel
- Rustic Bee Hotel
Additional Tips for Building a Great Bee Hotel
- A few smaller hotels can often be better than one mega hotel.
- A sloping roof can be useful.
- If you add a water dish with pebbles the bees will be grateful.
- A landing strip for bees can be good too.
Step 3 – Gather the Necessary Materials for Your Bee Hotel
If you can provide your native bees with a comfortable home made of natural materials, they will surely come to your hotel. The second step of this DIY project consists of gathering the necessary materials depending on what you want your hotel to look like. You will most likely need the following things:
- Untreated wooden planks
- Hollow stems or tubes (you can use cardboard tubes, bamboo, bramble, or any other eco-friendly tube with holes that are between 2 mm and 10 mm, depending on the type of bees you want to attract).
- Screws, nails, a saw, a drill, protective gloves, scissors, pencil, measuring ruler or tape.
- Waterproof material for the roof (if you want).
- Paint (to make your bee hotel more fun).
Step 4 – Get to Work
Now that you have all the tools and materials that you need for this project, it’s time to start building the bee hotel of your dreams. If you’ve chosen one of the designs listed above, you’ll find detailed instructions on each project’s website. If you created your own design, even better, you can use your imagination and steal tricks and ideas from all the projects mentioned above.
Regardless of the design, there are a few rules about building a bee hotel that you should take into account. Make sure your bee hotel has a roof that protects the contents of the hotel from rain and snow. Also, don’t forget that in order to work properly, a bee hotel needs to have a backing board. The best bee hotels on the market are made with replaceable bamboo tubes, bramble, or reeds, so it’s best to choose this great solution for your bee as well.
Step 5 – Choose the Perfect Location for Your Bee Hotel
Depending on the type of bee hotel you bought or built, you can mount it on an exterior wall, on a fence post, or in south or south-east-facing places in your garden. The ideal height at which the bee hotel should be mounted is between 100 and 160 cm. By placing your bee hotel facing south and at chest-height, you ensure that the insects will have plenty of warmth from early spring to late fall. Bees love to bask in the morning sun and as a result, their egg-laying season will be extended.
- The tubes of the hotel should always be horizontal.
- A bee hotel should be at least 1 m off the ground.
- It’s always good to place your bee hotel in a sheltered spot, under a roof, etc.
Step 6 – Maintenance
If you want your bee hotel to be safe and for your bees to be healthy and happy, then you should know that maintenance is key. In general, the tunnels of bee hotels are tightly packed, which makes it more likely for mites and fungus to spread from one nest to another. Therefore, it’s really important to clean your bee hotel once a year and to replace the tubes if the design allows it. The process of cleaning the bee hotel should always be carried out in spring when the eggs have hatched and your bees have completed their yearly life cycle.
It is very important to adjust your cleaning routine based on the type of bee hotel that you’re managing. If your bee hotel is made with paper tubes or natural stalks, you can simply remove them and replace them with fresh ones.
If your bee hotel is a block of wood with drilled holes, you’re going to have to clean the tunnels, but only do so if they’ve been capped off. You can use a thin brush, a pipe cleaner, or any other similar tool, but after a few years, you should replace the bee hotel altogether.
The life cycles of your bees will probably be overlapping, so your hotel might never be completely empty. Therefore, you will have to clean the tunnels one by one and plan ahead if you want to replace the hotel with a new one.
What About the Bee Hotel Parasites?
Parasites such as wasps, flies, and mites can be quite harmful to a bee hotel. If you want to have a clean and safe bee-only hotel, make sure you keep your bee hotel simple and stick to bamboo tubes with tiny holes, without any additional accessories or materials. Blocks of wood with drilled holes will work as well. If the holes are not very densely packed, even better. Research has found that bee hotels located in residential gardens are safer for native bees than those located on roofs, parks, and community gardens.
Native bees need our help and they need it now! Luckily for us, there are still plenty of things that we can do to help them lead healthy and happy lives. If you want to attract native bees to your garden, we recommend buying or building a simple bee-only hotel. Keep in mind that intricate hotels attract a wide range of insects and sometimes even pests. So choose wisely!