Built by St. Charles Park District staff, this bee hotel is constructed of sections of various woods with drilled holes and assembled stems of various native plants. I loved all the forms and textures assembled together!

Built by St. Charles Park District staff, this bee hotel is constructed of sections of various woods with drilled holes and assembled stems of various native plants. I loved all the forms and textures assembled together!

A Bee Hotel is Not the "Bee" All and End All...

by Trish Beckjord, RLA

Constructed “nests” for bees are becoming all the rage and can be quite attractive works of art as is shown by this bee house built in 2016 at the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center.

But it turns out these might not be the beneficial homes everyone is hoping they will be. The findings of recent field observations by researchers at York University in Toronto were reported in Macleans, a national current affairs and news magazine in Canada. Here are some results of the evaluation of some 200 bee hotels across Toronto.

  • Native wasps were more frequent tenants than native bees and occupied almost three quarters of the hotels each year. Native wasps are good too, though. It’s just that the bee hotel is not solely helping the critters it was built for.
  • Introduced bees weren’t as interested; they were found in only about 1/3 of the hotels.
  • The thin walls of the cardboard tubes used to build the structures seem to allow certain parasites to move easily between tubes or “rooms.” If allowed to develop due to poor maintenance practice, this can put all the inhabitants at risk.
  • A bee hotel in a shady spot will attract more wasps.
  • Hotels built higher than 5 stories off the ground increased the number of nests started and abandoned. Most native bees are ground dwellers after all…
  • Like native gardens, bee hotels must be regularly maintained to avoid problems like parasites, predatory ant and spider invasions.
  • Plastic is not likely the best material to use as it may trap humidity and cause the pollen loaf to become contaminated with mold.

Another study that looked at bee hotels in Nova Scotia orchards rather than in the city did not replicate the problematic conditions seen in the Toronto evaluations. Fortunately, neither researcher is recommending that the idea of bee hotels be abandoned. Just be informed about what you are doing!

We are a people of doers, particularly if we find some way in which to help conservation in a straightforward way. Just remember that the idea of a bee hotel is not so simple that you needn’t think about it. That would be similar to thinking that all you have to do is put down some native seed and all your maintenance worries are over… We know how that turns out!

If you want to learn more, the Crown Bees native bee website may be helpful.