Helping pollinators the DIY way

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Attendees had the opportunity to create bee nesting houses at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre’s “Help Pollinators the DIY Way” event on May 5. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Made by drilling holes in chunks of log or creating structures using bamboo, reeds or hollow stems, the houses can provide tunnel-like nesting space for the area’s solitary bees.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The Driftless Area Wetlands Centre hosted a “Help Pollinators the DIY Way” event on May 5, giving attendees the opportunity to create their own bee nesting houses. Made by drilling holes in chunks of log or creating structures using bamboo, reeds or hollow stems, the houses can provide tunnel-like nesting space for the area’s solitary bees. 

These solitary bees, who don’t create hives or live socially, actually make up 30 percent of the nearly 300 bee species that call Iowa home, noted Wetlands Centre Director Alicia Mullarkey. 

Some, like the mason bee, are also extremely effective pollinators, with a 95 percent success rate. The well-known bumblebees, on the other hand, are just 5 percent effective, said Mullarkey. 

“It brushes off their body more easily. That pollen reaches the stigma of the flower,” she explained of the fuzzy mason bees. “They’re used a lot in orchards.”

But like the honey bees and monarch butterflies, solitary bees are also susceptible to pesticides and habitat loss.

“If they don’t have the foraging or nesting habitat, they start to decline,” Mullarkey said. “But there’s a lot we can do to help native pollinators.”

The bee nesting boxes, for example, give the bees space to deposit their eggs. Mason bees use mud to create chambers in the tunnels, with the eggs placed in each chamber. Another solitary bee, the leafcutter bee, uses leaves in a similar process.

When forming holes for the bee houses, Mullarkey said it’s good to have a variety of sizes, ranging from 3/16 to a quarter of an inch in diameter, with the optimal size being 5/16. If using bamboo or hollow stems, the tunnels can be varying lengths. One end of each tunnel should always be closed. Many structures also have roofs on them.

When placing bee houses, Mullarkey said it’s important to consider the surrounding area, since these bees typically only travel 300 feet from their home.

“Native pollinators use native plants,” she said, “so it’s important for them to have floral resources nearby.”

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