ACT News

Australian National Botanic Gardens opens new bee hotel

Canberra already has more than its fair share of buzzing hotels, but the latest offering is for much smaller guests – bees and is likely to be filled with single females.

The timber bee hotel, unveiled at the Australian National Botanic Gardens on Thursday, will provide a home for native bees, allow visitors to see the insects hard at work and learn more about their role in the ecosystem.

Dr Remko Leijs, Aidan Bavinton, 8, of Maribyrnong Primary School, and ABC TV character Dirt Girl at the launch of the ...
Dr Remko Leijs, Aidan Bavinton, 8, of Maribyrnong Primary School, and ABC TV character Dirt Girl at the launch of the Australian Native Bee Hotel at the Australian National Botanic Gardens.  Photo: Jamila Toderas

South Australian Museum researcher Remko Leijs​ said Australia was home to 1650 known species of bee, many of which can be found in the Canberra area.

"Not a lot of people realise that, everyone knows the honey bee … and there's another 800 estimated unknown [native] species that need to be discovered," he said.

Rooms for every species of bee.
Rooms for every species of bee. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Dr Leijs and University of Adelaide researcher Katja Hogendoorn lent their expertise to help choose the best site for the hotel in the garden, in a shady spot close to lots of flowers.

Several native bees and a few wasps were already checking in on Thursday.

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Unlike European honey bees, most native bees live solo with female bees happily making individual nests next to each other.

Only about 10 native species make honey and they rarely sting people, Dr Leijs said.

Hotel rooms made of cardboard tubes packed with paper drinking straws in the bee hotel.
Hotel rooms made of cardboard tubes packed with paper drinking straws in the bee hotel. Photo: Jamila Toderas

"They're not aggressive like honey bees … only if you poked you're finger in the nest … they're workers so [the hotels are] perfect for school gardens," he said.

To attract myriad bee species the hotel features many different room decors, including hardwood logs and mud bricks drilled with holes, plant stems, fern fronds, and "hotel rooms" made from cardboard tubes packed tight with paper drinking straws – the perfect size for a native bee nest.

The Australian Native Bee Hotel at the Botanic Gardens.
The Australian Native Bee Hotel at the Botanic Gardens. Photo: Jamila Toderas

After choosing a nest the female will lay eggs and seal them off into individual brood cells with leaves, wax, mud or resin, depending on the species, before closing the nest entrance and leaving the eggs to develop and hatch into larvae ready to eat the pollen and nectar packed inside.

Other insects are also expected to check in, including wasps, which as meat-eaters will keep caterpillars and spiders at bay, but may also eat their fellow guests, Dr Hogendoorn said.

"When there are bees nesting [the wasps] will put their larvae in there and they will eat the bee and the food of the bee and become an adult," she said.

"Having a bee hotel is enormously important in showing people the insects that are out there, including bees."

Dr Leijs said bee hotels were common in Europe in people's backyards or balconies in the city to give urban bees nesting places.

As part of a Biodiversity Detectives education program, primary students visiting the gardens will build their own bee hotel room to take home, and each class will add one room to the hotel.

On Thursday students from Maribyrnong Primary School installed a cardboard room with ABC TV character Dirt Girl.