How to Choose The Best Insect Hotel
Insect hotels are a great way to attract a diverse range of bugs to your garden.
Not only are they fascinating to look at, but it can also be very beneficial to have pollinating insects around.
Most insect hotels cater for bees, and then may have additional sections for different insects. However, designs can vary, so it can be good to know what to look for to make sure you get exactly what you need.
The following information has been put together to shed some light on the different designs and specifications of insect hotels on the market:
Attracting Different Insects
If your bug hotel has several different nesting sections/‘habitats’, you should be able to attract different types of insects.
Here are some of the different bugs you might want to attract, and what sort of material they will be looking for:
There are actually more solitary bees in the UK than bees that live in colonies.
Solitary bees often look for tunnels in which they can nest and lay their pupae. Therefore, if you’re hoping to attract bees, you should choose a bug hotel with drilled wood (tunnels drilled into wood) and bamboo canes. These provide an ideal habitat for nesting solitary bees. Of course, spiders also enjoy these kinds of dark environments, so you may have to make sure that all of the tunnels don’t get filled with cobwebs.
Positioning the insect hotel so that it faces south/southeast will increase your chances of attracting insects like bees. It’s good if the hotel receives sun in the morning, but shade later in the afternoon.
Butterflies and Moths
When butterflies hibernate, they like to crawl into small cracks which give them shelter. During bad weather, such as rainstorms, butterflies and moths will also take refuge in similar small crevices. To help offer them a sheltered environment, consider an insect hotel that has several wooden slits. This will allow both butterflies and moths to crawl inside, tucking their wings away, and offer protection from the elements.
Beetles and Spiders
Beetles and spiders like dry, dark environments. Loose material like dry leaves and pieces of wood create good habitats. Try to make sure that these areas are concealed behind something, like a metal mesh guard, so that insects can get in but birds can’t. Otherwise, birds can get wise to the idea of the insect hotel being an easy food source – not the intended plan!
Adult ladybirds hibernate over winter, and also hunt out safe places to lay their eggs. Generally, they look for dry, woody environments. This sort of habitat can be replicated through the use of pinecones, which ladybirds like to hide and nest amongst.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Although multiple sections in an insect house can attract different species of insect, they also make it easy for disease and parasites to spread.
Whilst it might seem unnecessary, it’s generally recommended to clean out a bug hotel at least once a year – particularly to help with bee health. There’s more information on how to properly go about this in the next section.
Taking Care of Your Bug Hotel
Bug hotels need a bit of upkeep in order for insects to keep coming back. In particular, cleaning out the bee tubes once they have been vacated is important. If these spaces aren’t cleaned, future bees won’t move in.
Cleaning them out once a year is enough, and often summer is the best time to do it – by this point any eggs should have hatched and the bees emerged. Of course, you should be mindful not to disturb any bees that have not vacated their nest yet.
Use warm water and a small bottle brush or pipe cleaner to clean the tubes.
You should also replace the nesting materials every couple of years to make sure that they are not rotting or going mouldy.
Bug hotels are made of untreated wood, because treated wood isn’t as appealing to insects; therefore, they are much more prone to rot and damp than other wooden garden items. This may mean that they need to be replaced after a couple of years. Also, you shouldn’t treat or paint the insect hotel, as the solvents and chemicals won’t be good for wildlife.
Some people suggest moving the bug hotel into a shed over winter so the inhabitants keep dry and experience steadier temperatures. If you’ve bought a pricier insect hotel, this idea may appeal as it will extend the hotel’s life, just remember to put it back outside in very early spring.
You can also extend the life of a bug hotel by keeping it in a sheltered place away from rain and prevailing wind. Next to a fence, hedge, or under a tree are all good spots.
Bee hotels benefit from a slate roof with some overhang, but you should avoid covering any insect hotel with plastic sheeting or tarpaulins.
A solid bug hotel, which keeps out drafts and damp, will attract bees and butterflies, ladybirds and lacewings. A damper environment will attract wood-eating insects such as woodlice and earwigs.
Encouraging a range of insects is beneficial for the environment, but make sure they can all access the bug hotel.
Woodlice and earwigs can’t fly to the top but they can creep into lower sections. Bees and butterflies will happily make their way to the dry and warmer top sections without assistance.
If your bug hotel is standing, the inclusion of legs can keep damp from creeping up and causing rot. If it’s hanging, try to make sure that it hangs against a fence or tree, so that it is not swinging. A bug hotel that is constantly moving will not be as appealing to insects.
As mentioned, you should ensure no preservatives or stains have been used as bugs don’t like them. Also, make sure the nesting materials are not glued into place as these should be refreshed each year.
Insect Hotel FAQs
Where should I put my bug hotel?
Whilst bug hotels may get a few visitors no matter where they’re placed, location is still important to get the most out of your investment.
If your bug house has a habitat for bees, it should be placed at a height of at least one metre. It should also be positioned to face in a south/southeast direction. This is because bees appreciate the warmth of the morning sunshine and the protection of the afternoon shade. There should be no vegetation blocking the entrance, and it should be generally sheltered from rain and wind as much as possible.
If you’re looking to attract other insects, most of them prefer a slightly damper, shaded environment. Consider choosing a sheltered area of the garden – preferably near an insect-dense area like a hedge, compost heap, fruit tree or wildflower garden.
If nothing moves into the insect hotel, despite your best efforts, try moving it to a more sheltered/damper spot. Plant some wildflowers nearby, leave some old wood to rot down, and allow the grass to grow long. Also, if you’re using pesticides in the garden – stop!
What bugs might I see in my insect hotel?
A bee hotel will attract solitary bees like the mason bee and the leaf cutter. A hotel with slits for butterflies will attract overwintering species such as brimstone, comma and red admirals.
Loose dry leaves, pine cones, wood, straw, damp wood, and stones attract a lot of different insects. These include ladybirds, lacewings, hoverflies, moths, spiders, woodlice, beetles, earwigs, centipedes, millipedes, shield bugs, and all their larvae.
You can encourage all types of insect with plants like buddleia, lavender, campanula, dandelion, hellebore, sedum, jasmine, honeysuckle, erica, and mahonia. Dead wood piles and long grass are a good way to bring in the beetles.
When should I put out an insect hotel?
Insect hotels can be put out at any time of year. Bugs tend to think about hibernation during the autumn months but they always need shelter and protection from the elements and predators. Many insects lay their eggs in spring, so during this time you may have bugs using the hotel to nest. If insects don’t move in right away, leaving the hotel outside will allow it to weather down a little which may encourage them to do so later on.