I love unusual science projects for kids and learning how to make a DIY insect hotel ranks right up there in my list of offbeat projects! My kids were definitely intrigued and are waiting to check in a few guests…..
What is an insect hotel?
Wikipedia has a great explanation of what makes a good insect hotel and why you might want to make one here. Not only is it a fun science project for kids, it’s also beneficial to your garden! Insect hotels provide a place for insects, particularly pollinators, to hibernate during the upcoming winter and are a way to encourage insect pollination in your yard. They also can attract helpful insects who will naturally prey upon pests and therefore keep your garden pesticide free. Okay, I may be stretching it but you never know……
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Beyond buying the shadow box we used for this project, this is literally a 20 minute project and a great way to encourage a scavenger hunt in your backyard!
Build a DIY Insect Hotel
- Wood box I used this one because it had different compartments: Darice Natural Unfinished Wood Craft Display Memory Box
- Hot glue gun and glue
- White glue
- Bug friendly nesting materials: newspaper scraps, sticks, bark, bamboo, pebbles/rocks, leaves, dried flowers, straw, yarn, burlap, wool
- Step One Ask your kids to go on a hunt for buggy materials!
- Step Two Gather your materials and saw or break them into smaller pieces. I used a hacksaw to cut a bamboo stick down.
- Step Three Make sure your materials fit tightly in a compartment before gluing them in.
- Step Four Put a layer of white glue in each compartment and glue in your objects. For heavy objects like rocks use hot glue.
- Step Five Repeat gluing the materials into each compartment.
- Step Six Let glue dry for a few days.
Hang it and open up for business! I suggest hanging this away from doors or windows as it will attract plenty of visitors. A good idea is to place your bug hotel near a vegetable garden as it will hopefully attract pollinators like bees and pest controllers like ladybugs and earwigs. We already had a resident spider within an hour of gathering materials. I’m not sure if he came with the materials or not but there he was, hiding away!
- Avoid adding food scraps or nuts/acorns unless you want to attract flies and their lovely offspring….I love almost any bug except fly babies if you catch my drift. Blech!
- If you plan on putting this in a place where it will be exposed to rain/snow go ahead and apply a finish stain first or your box will deteriorate. We placed ours on a covered porch.
- Check back every so often so see if you can find any activity in the hotel! Avoid sticking fingers in the compartments in case any biters have moved in (here in LA we have a ton of black widows), also bees and wasps are frequent guests!
Roberto, The Insect Architect I couldn’t resist talking about this book since we are making an insect hotel. This is one of the cutest introductions to architecture for kids that I have ever seen. Design junkies will chuckle at the many plays on words and names, Fleas Van Der Rohe anyone….?
A little science behind insect hotels
Building a DIY insect hotel is a great springboard for discussing the importance of insects in gardens with kids. By making a habitat for different types of insects you can talk about what job each type of bug does in the garden. It’s also an opportunity to talk about the food chain and food webs and how each animal, including the ones many kids find a bit creepy, plays a part in the neighborhood ecosystem.
You can also discuss where may insects go during the winter. Some insects migrate to warmer location during the coldest part of the year, but many go into hibernation or lay eggs or overwinter as larvae in order to survive. The Smithsonian has a great overview of what insects do in the wintertime here.
Tips for building your DIY Insect Hotel
If you love the idea of a DIY insect hotel in the garden, take it up a notch read what entomologists have to say about insect hotels and the best (and worst) materials to use for creating one here. A few things we noted from this discussion when building a DIY insect hotel are:
- Avoid plastic materials. They can harbor mold which is detrimental to insects.
- Smaller is better. Big hotels are incredible but run the risk of parasitic insects moving in and their larvae devouring the larvae of other insects (especially bees).
- Pick the species you are building for. When possible design your hotel around a specific insects that you wish to house. Research the materials they need to nesting and use those in your design.
I’m always amazed at how fearless kids are when it comes to bugs. I will jump at the site of a caterpillar but I have often seen children scoop them up and let them inch up their arm. The same goes for crickets, rolly pollies, and praying mantis’. If your child likes insect projects here are few more to try:
So go ahead open that hotel you’ve always daydreamed about (I know I can’t be the only one who daydreams about opening a little B and B in the desert…) This one requires very little capital, a few eager visitors and some curious kids! Make a DIY insect hotel today!
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