U of Illinois Extension pollinator research involves help from public

A bumble bee pollinates a sunflower in the sunflower field on Tuesday, July 11, 2023 at Matthiessen State Park.

Bee hotels buzz with activity, but is it the right kind? A graduate student at the University of Illinois is researching bees and needs help – in the form of donated used bee hotels – from the public to understand if these man-made nests are helping or harming bee populations in Illinois.

Similar to bird or bat houses, bee hotels are artificial habitats made of plant stems or drilled wood for cavity-nesting bees that people can put in their yards.

The idea is to provide homes for native bees in areas where there aren’t naturally occurring nest materials, but the research shows mixed results on their benefits. Some studies have found the hotels led to higher species diversity, while others warn they host invasive bees, disease and parasites.

Timo Wayman, an entomology graduate student at the University of Illinois, is interested in native bee conservation and bee parasites, and is conducting a research project on bee hotels in Illinois.

“It’s clear that there is a lot we don’t know,” Wayman said. “Bee hotels could be easy targets for the natural enemies of native bees. Under such close quarters, diseases and parasites are free to move from one nest to the next, and insect-eating birds can clear out bee hotels in one easy meal.”

Wayman plans to collect bee hotels from rural and urban areas across Illinois and dissect them to understand what species are using them. The project requires donations of bee hotels from the public. Anyone who donates a hotel to the project will receive a personalized report on the findings and guidelines for future efforts to support bees.

“Each hotel will be critical for a better understanding of what is going on inside and how we can all better help native bee populations,” Wayman said.

Explore more about the project and learn how to submit a bee hotel that is at least two years old at go.illinois.edu/BeeHotel. Qualifying bee hotel submissions are needed by March 1. Drop-off locations will be provided after a hotel is determined to qualify.

Learn more about how you can support pollinators at go.illinois.edu/IllinoisPollinators.