By Rebecca Biggs, communications assistant for Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.
Insect family seeks cozy home in quiet neighborhood…
Insects aren’t so different from us; they too need a safe space to grow and raise their young. While many of us may have a tense relationship with insects, they are crucial to any healthy ecosystem—from our yards and gardens to forests and prairies. Even farms and orchards rely on beneficial bugs to keep crops healthy. But insects are finding it more and more difficult to find safe homes in our human-dominated world and we are seeing startling drops in the populations of beneficial insects like the Rusty Patched Bumblebee and the Monarch Butterfly.
A group from UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts, led by Kathryn Martin-Meurer, has been working on creating innovative, and
beautiful, ways for us to shelter these insects while also benefitting from their company. Through the group’s project titled, “@ Issue: INSECTS,” they aim to engage and educate the public on the global decline of insect species by installing “insect motels” along popular trails and at nature centers.
Feeling inspired by their work? You can create your own; opening up a bug B&B can be easier than you think! Creating a home for insects helps to keep them healthy, protected, and may even keep them from seeking refuge in your own home.
Make an Insect Home
Insect homes are easy and cheap to build and can be finished in as little as one afternoon. Many of the materials can be repurposed from things you already have or can find in your yard or park.
Want to attract certain insects to your yard or garden? Check out our Bug B&B Guide below to customize your insect home to attract your favorite beneficial bugs. These insects will quickly earn their keep with their work in the garden. They do pest control, pollination, waste removal, and more!
- Start with a basic frame. You can build it yourself or repurpose a wooden box, milk crate, or wood pallet.
- Next, your structure is going to need separate compartments to hold different housing and nesting materials. You can use wood glue, a hammer and nails, or wedging in order to keep your panels in place. We recommend using wood that has not been chemically treated to keep your bugs healthy and safe. Look for wood with natural defenses against rot, such as cedar. Alternatively, you can lightly scorch the wood with a flame to protect it from the weather.
- Fill the compartments with the materials you chose from the guide below. Get creative! Insect homes don’t have to be ugly or boring. If you’re feeling artsy, organize your materials into a design or pattern.
- To keep it safe from predators, cover the face of your structure with chicken wire. This will keep loose parts in place while also stopping other creatures from disturbing materials. The wire can be stapled with a staple gun or held in place by a latch or nail. Fill materials will need to be replaced year-to-year so build your insect home in a way that it can be opened and cleaned out fairly easily.
Bug B&B Guide
There are plenty of bee species out there who prefer to fly solo. Even so, these bees still do their fair share of pollination!
What they want: They require tunnels or tubes in order to feel at home. Just like cracking an egg, there’s more than one way to create tunnels for bees! The tunnels should be from 2mm to 10mm in diameter, and at least two inches long.
Some ways to do this:
- Drill tunnels from end to end in a 4×4 block of wood
- Gather hollow stems from woody plants
- Buy natural bamboo poles from a plant nursery or craft store
- Find thick cardboard tubes or roll up recycled paper
Ladybugs live for the all-you-can-eat aphid buffets. They eat all sorts of garden pests, so having a place for ladybugs to make a home in your yard is sure to give you a better gardening season.
What they want: Ladybugs love dense vegetation. Gather twigs, leaves, or clumps of grass. They’ll love it!
Damsel bugs are predators that take care of garden pests like aphids, moth eggs, cabbageworm, and small caterpillars.
What they want: To keep these damsels out of distress, give them grasses and ground covers.
Centipedes can contribute greatly to your garden’s productivity by helping to rotate the soil as they burrow and move.
What they want: Find some loose bark, dry leaves, and straw or hay to keep the centipedes safe and warm.
There’s an Ethiopian proverb that claims, when spiders unite, they can tie down a lion. It’s true that spiders will make a big difference by keeping the more pesky bugs, like mosquitos and flies, out of your garden. (We certainly hope there are no lions!)
What they want: Spiders are simple—loose bark, dry leaves, and straw or hay will do just fine. But make sure they have access to a good place to build a web and catch some supper.
Location, location, location
Everyone knows real estate is all about location. For a successful Bug B&B, find a place that will get direct sunlight in the morning. Not only will a sunny morning put your bug buddies in a good mood, most insects are cold-blooded and require the sun’s heat to warm up and begin to move around.
Raise it off of the ground. It can be fastened to a tree, secured on top of a table, stabilized on cement blocks, or perched high on a porch. The goal is to make it harder for predators to get to your guests!
Make sure the insects’ other needs are close at hand. Plant a mix of wildflowers and herbs to attract and feed insects, and keep some shallow water available for homebuilding and drinking.
Maintaining your insect home
Just like in any respectable establishment, regular upkeep for your home is a must; fortunately, it won’t take much to keep your insect homes up to code. Check for decaying or rotting wood or materials every now and then. You can simply change those materials out by removing the chicken wire. Try not to disturb the homes too often; a once-over in spring and late fall should be all you need.
We thank Kathryn Martin-Meurer, Trinity Lee, and Amanda Miller for their contributions to the content of this piece and for their work in the @INSECT project.