Bugs and hotels. Not two words you usually like to see together. But building a bug hotel can be a creative project for primary grade students and beyond.
Bug hotels, also known as bee hotels, are shelters for invertebrates made from reclaimed materials and natural objects. It’s one part art project and one part science activity. Autumn is a good time to build them because you can find more natural materials like straw, grass, and hollow plant stems. Your guests are likely to move in over the winter and then lay eggs in the spring. The newly hatched bugs will eat aphids and mites, which will reduce your need for pesticides. The hotel also provides a place for your children to observe invertebrates, and a safe place to put any they find around the yard. Depending on the level of complexity, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes up to two hours to build.
In nature, invertebrates find nooks and crannies in fallen trees, pinecones, and hollow plants stems, as well as between and under rocks. We remove most of these objects from our yards and gardens, leaving few hiding places for helpful bugs looking to escape predators or bad weather.
Where you locate your bug hotel will depend on what species you are hoping to attract. Solitary bees prefer the sun, but most insects prefer slightly damp conditions. A south-facing wall would provide both sunshine and a shelter from the north wind in the winter. Either way, find a quiet spot where humans won’t be scaring the bugs away.
Your students can choose which materials to use depending on which insects they want to attract. Solitary bees, for example, like to spend the winter in hollow stems. They aren’t actually very solitary, as up to three bees will share a stem which they then pack with mud to seal out the winter elements. You can attract ladybugs by packing twigs or hollow stems like bamboo together. These helper bugs eat mites, mealy bugs, scale, and more. If you use bamboo, cut the pieces flush with the edge of the bug hotel and pack them in tightly. Seal them in place with white glue.
There are many plans available online. Here are a few of my favorites.
The GrowVeg YouTube channel has a helpful video on making bug hotels. The result is an attractive and artistic hotel packed with bamboo stems. This method (details start at 1:37) calls for drilling holes and driving screws, so it may work best for an industrial arts class. You could also pre-drill the pieces of wood to simplify the process.
The Ecology Center does a nice job of setting up a lesson, although it doesn’t go into great detail as far as the building process. The lesson includes an activity where each child pretends to be a local plant or animal. Everyone stands, and the teacher calls out one plant or animal at a time and has them sit down, representing removing them from the ecosystem. The class then tries to figure out which other plants or animals would be impacted, and then those impacted students need to sit down as well.
The Orchard Project has students observe habitats in an apple orchard or wooded area and then build insect hotels. As part of the observation, students play the “I Spy a Habitat” game where they race around looking for habitats listed on their worksheet. Certain habitats are worth more points (like ponds), and others are worth fewer points (like short grass and flower beds). For the bug hotel building, they suggest cute names like “Bug-ingham Palace” and “BeeNB.”
With so many schools starting the year remotely, this bug hotel project could be a nice parent-child activity. Look at pictures of a few finished hotels for inspiration, tell your smart speaker to play The Eagles’ “Hotel Bugifornia” and get started. Such a lovely place…