Minibeast Mansion

My lovely in-laws wanted to support me with the work that I do, and as they aren’t on social media and don’t require training in science activities with kids they figured the next best thing was to task me with building them a bug hotel. It was lots of fun to research and brilliant fun to build, loved by both grown ups and the kids. Plus it looks pretty amazing too and will be home to hundreds of bugs, so that is a win win all round really. They had recently done a house renovation so had lots of useful materials to hand but you can create a bug hotel out of materials that you can easily collect round the house or garden. And it doesn’t need to be a hotel if you don’t have the space, bugs will be equally delighted with a bug bungalow or beach hut!

What you need:

  • Wooden pallets are great if you are building a big hotel but equally plant pots, bricks, wooden slats, stones, tubes.
  • Quite useful to have a bit of filler too like dried leaves or wood shavings. Also some bits to add texture to it like sticks and small stones are great too.

What to do (with tips/extra bits):

  • Find a suitable location for your bug hotel. Make sure it’s on a level surface. Some bugs like the sun and others shade so it depends what you are building it for as to where you want it, but if you want to attract a variety then a partially sunny/partially shady spot is ideal. Near a hedge or under a tree make good spots. Probably best not to put it near to any vegetable beds, but near to flowers is a good idea.
  • Start with the base. The hotel could end up being quite heavy so you want a firm, sturdy base to build up from. Pallets are great but if you are building something smaller then bricks are good too. Use two bricks with a gap between them to fill and then stack on top in alternating directions.
  • We filled under the bottom pallet with stones for frogs, toads or newts, as it should make a great frost-free spot during winter for them. Frogs can eat slugs so are brilliant things to encourage into a garden. We also put a hedgehog house in that we already had but you can easily make one from a wooden or plastic box with some dry leaves or straw inside for bedding.
  • Build up! We used some pallets upside down to create wider openings between the two gaps. And then fill the gaps. Try and use heavier items near the bottom so it isn’t top heavy. You can fill the gaps with whatever you have, but this is what you can expect to attract with different materials:
    • Sticks, straw & dry leaves: ladybirds
    • Dead wood, loose bark & pine cones: beetles, centipedes, woodlice and spiders. Dead wood is an important habitat for some beetle larvae, such as the stag beetle.
    • Bamboo canes or wood with holes in: solitary bees. These make great nest site for solitary bees. They lay eggs in the tube and then seal it with mud.
    • Corrugated cardboard rolled up in a plastic cylinder (such as a bottle): lacewings
    • Plant pots: you can fill these with some of the above materials or put them in the middle as nice spots for hibernating invertebrates.
  • Make sure there are lots of nice little gaps, as these will provide fantastic places for invertebrates to hibernate over winter.
  • Top it off. We put a green roof on ours as had some spare turf. You could plant the top with wildflowers that not only look lovely but attract butterflies, bees and other insects. We gave ours a slope with an overhang so that water could run off. Only plants that are happy with drier conditions will do well on the top.

The science bit

Bug hotels are a brilliant way to provide a habitat for the beneficial insects that can live in our gardens. For example ladybirds and lacewings both eat aphids and so providing a home for them will help to keep aphid numbers down, it’s a beautiful example of natural pest control!

Bee numbers in the wild are in decline and so providing habitats for solitary beds or bumblebees can help with their conservation.

Explaining it to children

Build it and they will come (the bugs that is, not the kids!).

Experiment based on similar activities from the following fabulous websites:

Wild About Gardens

The Wildlife Trusts

RSPB

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