Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Our ongoing study of pollinators and ways to help protect them with creating habitat will lead us to the native Mason Bee this spring.  The March Program will feature Steve Beckelhimer with the West Virginia Master Naturalist Program; Kanawha Valley Chapter.   At least one of our club members has completed the Master Naturalist Program and built a hive/house last year.  We're really looking forward to this program!

First, some brief information about the native Mason Bee: Blue Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria).  "Honeybees are very important to commercial agriculture, but native bees like the blue orchard bees are better and more efficient pollinators of native crops. There are 140 species of Osmia in North America. They are all known for visiting fruit trees, such as apples, plums, pears, almonds, and peaches. The blue orchard bee or Osmia lignaria, is prized for its efficiency pollinating fruit trees and is one of the few native pollinators that is managed in agriculture." (From the USDA Forest Service Site on the Blue Orchard Bee). 

I first saw insect houses in Switzerland and Germany several years ago.  The houses were fantastic. Very decorative and creative.  I wanted one!!

Stein am Rhein insect houses

Ottoschwanden Kurhaus (community center)insect house
 in Freiamt, Germany (Black Forest)
Fast forward to this past fall and a visit to the Canaan Valley (WV) National Wildlife Refuge and a trip to the Visitor Center.  Behind the center is a wonderful native habitat garden called The Pollinator Magnet Bed.  The day we visited in September was a very active day.  Monarch caterpillars were on the milkweed and looking closely you could see many other insect.  But, what caught my eye was the Insect Hotel.  I picked up the brochure to bring home and was soon in touch with Candy Olson who is a member of the Canaan Valley Master Naturalist and the one who took all the photos for their brochure as well as photos of the construction of the Insect Hotel.  She then got in touch with Dan Walker who wrote the brochure.  Both have been generous in their permission to share photos and text.  They both belong to a group called The Friends of the 500th established in 1996 (the Canaan refuge is the Nation's 500th National Wildlife Refuge). They are part of a national network of over 250 Friends groups committed to supporting, protecting and improving National Wildlife Refuge resources.

Quoting from the brochure:
The Friends have now entered the accommodations business with an Insect Hotel, shown in the picture below - built entirely with donated or recycled materials and volunteer labor.
When finished the hotel is designed to attract insects native to Canaan Valley, especially those that pollinate the native plants.  The roof, high profile, and open sides give air and sunlight to keep brooding areas warm and dry. 

House under roof awaiting the "suites."
House foundation under construction.
Adding the roof.

Who is a pollinator?
When we think of pollinations, we think of bees, but many other animals can play a role: pill bugs, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps and amphibians, as well as bats and other small mammals - all can spread pollen.  Some birds are pollinators, too, such as the hummingbird, attracted for the sugary nectar.  Some visitors may come and go, but others such as bees and wasps may stay in t residence for an entire season going from the egg stage to the larval and ultimately to adulthood.  And contrary to what we might think, most pollination by bees and wasps is performed not by hived insects. 
Ready for occupancy.
Who lives where?  (Suites to the sweet?...)
Even if the Hotel is omplete and open for business when you see it, it may still look like a pile of miscellaneous junk.  But is is carefully designed so each insect-pollinator has an appropriate "suite."
Notice the following "suites":
Cones and bits of dry bark:  Some beetles and other boring insects like these.  They do not weigh much, so they can stay on the light wire screen under the roof. 
Bricks with small holes:  wasps and hornets like these long dry tunnels.
Cut logs:  These will have lots of little holes drilled in them. solitary wasps and bees, such as mason bees, will like those.

A year later.
Bundles of canes (in the clay pipes):  These also appeal to insects looking for places to hide and nest.

There are lots of great sites out there with photos and instructions on building a bee house.  Below are a few favorite links.
To follow in March - building our own Insect Hotel!

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