Making a bug hotel is a great way to get children more engaged in wildlife. Best of all, it’s easy to put together from things you have lying around at home. Abi Wheatley, author of several Usborne activity books, explains how...
My three-and-a-half-year-old is a great one for a ‘sofa safari’. His favourite book is Usborne’s Peep Inside Bug Homes – he loves lifting the flaps to see the bugs in their homes, and laughs like mad about the baby spittlebug making bubbles with its bottom! But in real life he’s been much less intrepid, often running away in distress from woodlice and ants in the garden.
I wanted to find a way of carrying over his interest to the mini-beasts living around us – of helping him understand that, like the smiling bugs in the book, our local creepy-crawlies were a friendly bunch. Making a ‘bug hotel’ similar to the one in his favourite book seemed like a good place to begin. It turned out to be fun and easy. Best of all, at a time when it’s still hard to go shopping, you can just use what you already have at home in your recycling box or shed. And you can think big or small, depending on the materials to hand and how much outdoor space you have.
First of all, you’ll need some kind of sturdy, weather-proof container to house your bug hotel. If you have a large garden, and also some planks and bricks, you can stack them like shelves – or, for a smaller variant, use a few tiles propped up with sticks or pebbles. A wooden box turned on its side (so the opening is at the front, not the top) works well. Or, use a terracotta flower pot or empty glass jar placed on its side. You could use one pot or jar for a windowsill, dot several around a balcony or small garden, or for a larger space, place a few jars together side by side.
Next you’ll need some bug-friendly bedding materials. You can make this part of the project into a treasure hunt, talking to your child about what types of things bugs might like to snuggle up in, and challenging them (or helping them, depending on age) to find as many different ones as they can around the house and garden.
Here are just some of the things that work well, but feel free to improvise with what you have: bamboo garden canes, paper straws, reeds or other plant stems with hollow middles; sticks or small sections of log; pebbles; pine cones, dry leaves, grass or straw; broken pieces of tile, china plate or flower pot; corrugated cardboard; moss; knitting wool or string; bark; sand or soil; perforated packing paper.
Once you have your pile of bug bedding, it’s time to choose a location for your bug hotel. A sheltered spot is best, but it can be sunny or shady – some bugs prefer one and some the other, so you’ll just attract a slightly different clientele, depending on the location.
Sheltered spots are best for bugs!
Then, start packing! Your aim is to stuff your container full of bedding materials so it’s snug, but still has plenty of tiny nooks and crannies for bugs to hide away in. For big things like sticks, pieces of corrugated cardboard or bamboo canes, you’ll need to cut them so they fit within your container. For canes and sticks, garden secateurs work well – but keep them well away from children. Corrugated cardboard can be cut and then stacked, but you can also cut a long strip and roll it up. Roll it so that the little holes of the corrugations show along the spiral edge of the roll (it’s also much easier to roll this way).
It’s often easiest and most effective to group hard materials together by type – so stack your pebbles together, your pinecones together, your bark together and so on. For materials with holes – such as bamboo canes, corrugated cardboard or paper straws - stack them so that the holes face outwards. Then, fill in the gaps with softer materials such as moss, dried leaves or straw. If you can, prop your hotel up slightly at the back, so it slopes downwards a little towards the front. This will help rainwater to drain out. Add a sign saying ‘bug hotel’ if you like. Then, sit back and admire your handiwork!
A snail checking in at the Bug Hotel
Like me, you may be surprised to find that, having built a hotel, a previously bug-shy child may be ultra keen for large numbers of creepy-crawlies to take residence instantly. It seems that building something for bugs, and thinking about how to take care of them, really can help children to look on creepy-crawlies as friendly creatures to be encouraged, not feared.
I’ve found that, since we built our bug hotel, my son has been less alarmed by mini-beasts – in fact the other day he gently picked up a snail and carried it over to our bug hotel, so it could move in. And now, whenever we get to the last page of Peep Inside Bug Homes with the picture of the bug hotel, we say, ‘Just like ours!’
Come on a bug hunt in this little book and discover ants building their nest underground, bees making honey in their hive and a bug hotel where lots of creepy crawlies have found a home. With colourful illustrations, flaps to lift and holes to peep through, there’s so much to discover in this fascinating introduction to insects and where they live.