A: A mixed ability and age group does present some challenges when it comes to science and the wonderful world of bugs. One activity that is almost guaranteed to spark some interest and encourage collaboration amongst your group is to create a bug hotel. These nifty creations can be made from all manner of recycled or repurposed items – there is no need to go out and purchase anything new.
In fact, this is one of the key ideas that lies behind creating a new area of habitat for bugs. By recycling or repurposing materials we encourage our students to master those lifelong learning skills that will help them in their role as the next habitat custodians.
So what exactly is a bug hotel?
A bug hotel is a structure created with the purpose of providing a habitat for many of the different insect species which live locally. Lady bugs, native bees, lacewings, hoverflies and praying mantises will all soon hopefully decide to take up residence in a section of the hotel.
Like in a regular hotel, there needs to be accommodation made for various guest requirements. After all, not all guests want to stay in the penthouse suite – some much prefer custom sized, budget rooms that are perfectly suited to their own particular needs and desires! For this reason, a bug hotel needs to offer habitat made from a variety of materials. This could include:
Small sections of timber
Lengths of hollow timber or a non-invasive species of bamboo
Sections of timber with varying diameter holes drilled into them.
These items are layered one on top of the other in a stack formation. You may decide to use dividers in between the ‘floors’ of your hotel, both for the convenience of the guests and for the aesthetic pleasure of your students. Dividers can be made from recycled pallets or something similar (just remember to watch for those splinters).
Ideally the pallets are drilled and screwed to anchor them firmly in place. Be wary of stacking them too high, particularly if your class involves younger students who may be shorter than the top of the bug hotel when it is completed.
Why do we build bug hotels?
Bug hotels can be a wonderful way of encouraging diversity in your garden and helping students learn about the very many different species which live in your area. They tend to encourage insects which eat the mites and aphids which might otherwise pray on your lovingly planted lettuces or flowers, and so are a handy form of pest control particularly in an environment where the use of insect sprays is inappropriate and dangerous.
We know that our native bees are declining in numbers across Australia. By constructing bug hotels and combining this with some planned and deliberate planting of native bee attracting plants nearby, we can help replenish the population of native bees.
Of course no good hotel is without its adornments and decorations, so do encourage your students to get creative with making a coloured roof and walls, displays, signs or other decorations which will make your bug hotel the talk of the neighbourhood.
It is of course important to monitor the environment and situation in your own local area and decide if a bug hotel is suitable for using in your particular setting. Some advice from a local expert in habitat maintenance, sustainable gardening and insects in your area should be able to guide you in how to avoid any problems, injuries or issues with your hotel in a school setting.