The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bee hotels: One way to help native bees

A bee collects pollen in a sunflower field, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014, near Lawrence, Kan. A new “bee hotel” in the area could provide a home for the area’s at-risk native bee population. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
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It’s a rough time to be a bee. Their habitats as vanishing, their food sources dwindling, they’re being poisoned by pesticides, more than 40 percent of honeybee colonies have died in the past year. Solitary, hive-less, native bees buzz around the hostile landscape, desperately seeking a place they can call home.

They might find it near Lawrence, Kan.

At least, that’s the hope of researchers at the University of Kansas, who teamed up a local construction company and an architecture firm to build the area’s first ever “bee hotel.” The facility has no lobby or check-in counter, but it does contain more than 3,000 tiny tunnels made of rolled-up paper, bamboo and wood where bees can rest their weary wings.

“Bee hotels are [there] to provide that habitat. So they’re little tubes so that they can crawl in individually and do their work and live,” Kay Johnson told Kansas TV station KSHB. Johnson is environmental manager of Prosoco, the construction company that built the hotel.

The bee hotel isn’t a new idea: biologists at the University of New Hampshire built an even more elaborate example last year, and beekeepers in Europe have been using them for centuries.

Still, as far as hotel guests go, bees can be fussy ones. They have to “warm up before they go out and do their work,” so the “rooms” at KU’s arched, wooden hotel (which has been planted near a trail at the school’s field station) all face toward the sun, architect Steve Clark, who also worked on the project, told KSHB. Other construction concerns included making sure that the hotel was sheltered from wind, rain and other inclement weather.

But Johnson believes it’s worth the effort. Unlike honeybees, which gather in colonies and were imported from Europe centuries ago, most North American bees usually live on their own, according to the New Hampshire Business Review. But it’s a dangerous world for a small, flying arthropod (see: pesticide, habitat loss, hunger) and the 4,000 species of native bees also need a safe place to make their nests. They may not produce honey, but they are still essential to pollinating the nation’s crops, gardens and wildflowers.

“If we can take care of these bees, we can have fruits and vegetables and tomatoes, even if there’s problems with the honeybees,” Johnson said.

Correction: An initial version of this article incorrectly stated that the hotel must be re-positioned to receive sun in the mornings. The hotel is actually immobile, and was constructed so that it faces the morning sun.