Tag Archives: Do It Yourself

Guide to building and managing a mason bee hotel

In nature, tunnel-nesting bees are perfectly happy to use logs riddled by boring beetles or piles of dead plants that have hollow stems. That habitat is often in short supply in many yards, however, so it’s necessary to provide hotels if you want to attract them. These hotels can be as simple as a large coffee can filled with hollow reeds … or as elaborate as the three-level one I built. The bees really don’t care.

Types of nesting material

DIY bee hotels can be filled with routered nesting trays (you can buy these or make your own, if you’re handy), wood blocks with paper inserts (these inserts can be purchased), wood blocks or logs with drilled holes (unlined), or just sections of hollow stems (by far the easiest). Or, like house in the photo below, a mix. A hotel should have a roof to keep the tunnel entrances relatively dry, should be situated to get morning sun, and be approximately 5 feet off the ground (so you can enjoy watching them).

Below is a photograph of my other hotel. It’s smaller and is set up in my front yard to entertain people who walk by. Tunnels are all unlined drilled holes, plus milkweed stems. Holes in the blocks are varied because I want to attract a variety of solitary bees (It’s an attempt to get neighbors interested in native bees.)

Swap nesting materials regularly

The ideal bee hotel is one that allows all the nesting material to be removed each year (or so). By installing fresh nesting material, new tenants each spring will get to move into tunnels free of kleptoparasitic pollen mites and pathogenic fungi. Another benefit of removable nests is that you can remove sections as they get filled, allowing you to replace the spot with the same type of tunnels or with tunnels that have different diameter to cater to a different bee species (there are hundreds). Below are examples of my hotel with different configurations (my 2020 version, on right, is a bit boring).

Emergence boxes

What do you do with the nesting material after you remove it from the hotel? I put mine into a large cardboard box that has holes in the sides and at the top, then store in my unheated garage for the winter. In mid March (before bees in my area start to wake up) I put the box outside in a spot that is dry and gets good morning sun. Then when bees emerge from their cocoons they can escape from the box but are disinclined to re-inhabit the nesting tunnels they emerged from. Here’s a view of the nesting material inside my emergence box.

After several months outside (e.g., in August, long after the last resident has emerged) I take everything back into my shop and redrill holes and sterilize the wood. Then I can reuse blocks in future years.

Cleaning pupae

Lately, I’ve been thinking that I should move entirely to a system where I can sort through pupae at the end of the season. E.g., as summarized here. The reason for this is that I’d like to remove (kill) the kleptoparasitic mites (pic) and Houdini flies (pic) that are likely destroying many of my solitary bees. To enable this process I am going to start using paper straws to line all the tunnels. These straws can then be removed and unwrapped and the contents examined. Below is a photograph showing how drilled holes can be lined with paper straws — just fold over the back overhang and seal with foil tape.

Several companies sell sturdy (and easy to unwrap) paper straws as well as cardboard tubes that can easily accommodate the straws (i.e., you don’t need to drill holes in wood).

Another way to sort through pupae is to use routered wood trays, which you can buy or make (with a router or a table saw). Although some types of trays are better used with straws (to prevent mites from moving from tunnel to tunnel), others fit snuggly enough to be used without them. On my list of things to do is to make some routered nests that are sealed on one side with Plexiglas so that I can observe the bees within (such hotels can be purchased, and are beautiful).

Design tips

  • To keep everything dry on something this tall you need a generous roof overhang. Mine extends 5 inches beyond the front of the shelf, plus the wood sections and reeds are set back from that by another inch or so. If you have a shorter house you can have a smaller roof.
  • For larger hole sizes you want, ideally, 6 inches of depth. Shorter (4″) tunnels are fine but can result in a male-biased brood sex ratios. If you want to encourage population growth, encouraging the production of females is important. So buy long bits (I really like my 5/16″ auger bit, shown in drill below).
Drilling holes for mason bee inserts
  • Burning the front of the wood allows bees to more easily find their holes, plus the darker surface causes the wood to heat up faster in the morning sun.
  • Avoid treated lumber or fresh cedar. Per rumors on the internet, those types of wood can result in the death of the larvae. Pine is fine but I think harder wood is preferable because the drilled holes tend to be smoother.
  • For cutting reeds to size, I highly recommend using a cutoff disc on a Dremel tool instead of pruners. You can get a really smooth surface with a Dremel.

Examples of nice DIY solitary bee hotels

Additional resources

If you’re lazy and just want to buy a mason bee house, here’s my draft listing of companies that seem to make good ones. Please also see my guide to bee houses you should avoid.

DIY trap to kill pregnant mosquitoes

This post contains photographs and construction tips for a killer craft I made: an autocidal gravid ovitrap. Pregnant females enter the trap, lay some eggs on or near the stagnant water within, then are prevented from exiting and die. Their progeny also die because a screen at water level prevents larvae from reaching the surface to obtain oxygen. When similar traps have been deployed they bring down mosquito levels substantially and thus are quickly becoming one of the main ways to prevent mosquito outbreaks and disease. Every homeowner should have six. They’d make wonderful gifts.

Autocidal gravid ovitrapThe design features a clear dome that helps trap the females when they are done ovipositing (they go for the light), plus a completely unneeded observation window so I can watch the larvae and pupae (fun for the whole family, plus good for demonstration purposes). It borrows general methodology from gravid Aedes traps (GATs) designed by Dr Scott Richie (James Cook University) and colleagues that recently made news on NPR (here’s an overview; here’s their paywalled journal article). I’ve designed mine to capture species that also lay egg rafts, so it’s not just a GAT. My design doesn’t use insecticide because I wanted the odor of developing larvae to be an attractant to other females (it is, by the way).

What you need

  • Autocidal gravid ovitrap2-gallon bucket
  • bucket lid
  • 6″ plastic pot
  • clear dome from cake store
  • metal coat hanger
  • plastic screening
  • stapler
  • 3 paperclips
  • small neodymium magnet
  • silicone adhesive glue
  • duck tape
  • hardware cloth
  • 1-L soda bottle
  • 1/4″ foam weatherstripping
  • black spray paint
  • Dremel tool with cutting bit
  • drill with drill bit
  • knife
  • safety glasses (when Dremeling)

Construction photographs

If you’d like to see photographs larger just click on first image and navigate like a slide show. There are many ways to construct these so if you build one and it looks completely different, don’t worry. This is because if your device is the only stagnant water around, females will use it.

I’ve only just deployed it and it’s rather cold right now so I don’t have any victims yet. But I’m optimistic and am posting now with the hope that somebody will have suggestions on how to improve the design (I’m making more). One improvement I’m definitely going to make is to drop the funnel lower into the dome so it’s harder for females to accidentally fly straight up to escape. And pro-tip if you make the above: attach the lid to pail when spray painting to avoid unwanted buildup where they attach.

I’m also posting in the off chance that a biology teacher might take an interest. Having teams make these would be really fun and then they could deploy them in the woods near the school: bonus points for team that traps the most mosquitoes. It’s fun like the classic egg-drop lab in physics except useful. Students would then take their projects home where they’d continue to be useful. Would make for a great Girl Scout Gold Award / Eagle Scout project.

Other DIY designs

Where to buy

If all of the above sounds like way too much work you can buy traps from SpringstarBioQuip, and Ultimate Mosquito Traps.

Useful articles

Barrera, R., A.J. Mackay, and M. Amador. 2013. A novel autocidal ovitrap for the surveillance and control of Aedes aegyptiJournal of the American Mosquito Control Association, 29:293-296.

Maciel-de-Freitas R., R.C. Peres, F. Alves, M.B. Brandolini. 2008. Mosquito traps designed to capture Aedes aegypti (Diptera: Culicidae) females: preliminary comparison of Adultrap, MosquiTRAP and backpack aspirator efficiency in a dengue-endemic area of Brazil. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 103: 602-605.

Mackay, A.J., M. Amador, and R. Barrera. 2013. An improved autocidal gravid ovitrap for the control and surveillance of Aedes aegypti. Parasites and Vectors 6:225.

Maire, A. 1985. Effect of axenic larvae on the oviposition site selection by Aedes atropalpus. J. Am. Mosq. Control Assoc. 1:320-323.

Paz-Soldan et. al. 2016 Design and testing of novel lethal ovitrap to reduce populations of Aedes mosquitoes: community-based participatory research between industry, academia and communities in Peru and Thailand. PLoS One 11:8.