Insect hotels – what’s the buzz all about?

In garden centres and hobby shops across the country a selection of odd looking, oversized bird houses can now be found – but these are no nesting boxes. They are the latest craze for the environmentally conscientious, insect hotels

Being sold as the saviours of beneficial insects, especially the pollinators whom we rely upon but whose numbers have dropped dramatically. Insect hotels are being touted as the urban solution to the decline in insects being witnessed across the globe.

In fact, they have become so popular that there are now countless YouTube videos, and step-by-step manuals, guiding even the most hapless ‘do-it-yourselfer’ to create multi-story insect metropolises. These are homes for a menagerie of garden favourites including snails, frogs, spiders, millipedes and all other manner of creepy crawlies.

Bug Hotel or House of Horrors?
At first glance, these hotels appear to be a genius solution to the current insect crisis and we all should be running off to the shops to buy flower pots, pine cones, glue guns and wooden planks. It’s only with a little digging, that the darker side of these creepy crawly communes is unearthed.

Amidst the hundreds of nature loving blogs giving step-by-step instructions on how to build your own insect hotel is the Entomologist Lounge. This is a website for serious entomologists and insect enthusiasts, which paints a very different picture of insect hotels.

They provide a stark warning that poorly designed hotels increase the risk of disease and parasitism, threatening the lives of the very insects they were devised to save. According to the website, the problem is the unnatural community living conditions these hotels artificially create. In nature, habitats occur as small separate nests, not the insect condominiums that are gaining in popularity. These high density hotels make the insects inside very susceptible to parasitism, which spreads rapidly if not managed. To make matters worse, if not maintained – which is too often the case, moisture condenses and gets trapped inside the hotel. This can lead to mould growth that can bring with it a whole host of diseases for our bugs.

If not hotels, then what?
While the hotels themselves are clearly not the right solution, the concept behind them – to provide insects with suitable shelters in urban environments – is spot on. The good news is that there are alternatives to a bug hotel which can be really effective especially in relatively natural urban environments like Likweti.

1. Separate refuges – Instead of looking for one solution to save everything, start thinking about multiple habitats each specific to their own inhabitant. This way you can target a habitat for the individual creatures’ specific needs, for example toads and frogs require humid environments with partial shade, while bee houses need to be dry and in full sun.

2. Create sustainable natural environments – Planting beneficial plants that provide nectar at times when supplies are short, is one of the most simple and effective ways to help save our pollinators. Often these plants are wild flowers, sometimes seen as weeds but are the natural food source for our pollinators, By setting aside a wild space for pollinators in your garden you will be helping to save a group of insects we rely heavily upon.

3. Put the secateurs down – A lot of pupa and larvae overwinter on plants that we trim and hack back at during autumn and spring. By allowing your garden to grow and not be over manicured you will be providing a far more suitable refuge for these beneficial beasties than any insect hotel.

4. Make pesticides a last resort – pesticides, herbicides and even fungicides can really harm beneficial organisms and change the whole balance in the ecosystem. There are so many other options out there, from the mechanical removal of weeds, to the use of bio-control and even natural alternatives to pesticides.

The first step however, is to get to know your mini-beasts. So go out into your garden, explore under the rocks and in the nooks and crevices. Go pond dipping, drill some small holes into dead wood for bees to use and leave the odd over turned flower pot out for something to make into a home. Likweti is alive with creepy crawlies, so go out and explore!

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