Sterling Biggers

“Insects, worms, and other small animals that carry out vital functions for life on earth have declined by 45 percent on average over 35 years, threatening human health, water quality, and food supplies…”

-Steve Connor: “Vital invertebrates decline by 45 percent, study finds,”, July 2014

The public is aware of declines in monarch butterfly and honey bee populations; however, the problem is deeper and farther reaching than just these two species.

Many insects play vital roles pollinating trees, flowers, crops, fruits and vegetables, etc. Loss of these invertebrate species has already impacted crop yields. Insects are also a critical component in the food chain. A 45% loss of insects guarantees that animals dependent on insects as a food source will see significant population declines. This issue truly is an important subject for everyone.

Some of the reasons for this insect population decline are:

• Loss of habitat: Human encroachment on remaining wilderness areas along with deforestation, open-pit coal mining, tar sands extraction, and so on have dramatically reduced habitat for invertebrates.

• Monoculture crops: Large scale agribusinesses plant vast tracts of land corner-to-corner with crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat. By doing this, many insects cannot find food or habitat. Unfortunately, the insects that remain are often destructive to the crops and are eradicated with pesticides.

• Widespread drought: Climate change has caused the desertification of many semi-arid biomes. The loss of these immense grassland ecosystems has drastically impacted invertebrate populations.

• Widespread use of fungicides and pesticides: According to an article published by Quartz

The collapse of ten million beehives may have been due to the improper and over use of fungicides and pesticides. Interestingly, the chemicals did not poison the bees—instead, the combination of chemicals found in the pollen the bees ate caused this: “…Bees showed a significant decline in their ability to resist infection by a parasite called Nosema ceranae. The parasite has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder though scientists took pains to point out that their findings do not directly link the pesticides to CCD. The pollen was contaminated on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in one sample. Scientists identified eight ag chemicals associated with increased risk of infection by the parasite…”

The facts of this “inconvenient truth” are even more compelling when looking at urban areas.

See: This site through photographs, graphs, and text explains why in some urban areas the decline of insect population is closer to 90%.

I recently attended a lecture given by Tom Kroeger, Lakeshore State Park manager. Here are some interesting facts about insects that Tom provided during his lecture:

• We know of one million insect species

• It is estimated that up to 30 million insect species have yet to be identified and studied

• There are 10 quintillion insects alive at any time

• There are 124 million per acre

• This works out to be 200 million insects per person

• It translates into about 350 pounds of insects per person

Mason Bee Research

My project was built specifically for mason bees. I became intrigued with these solitary bees when I learned what wonderful pollinators they are. Here are two video links that will quickly discuss the benefits of having a mason bee hive/hotel in your backyard, how to provide a suitable habitat for the bees, and how to insure your insect hotel remains viable for years to come.

Kinsman Garden Company and “Why

Do We Need Mason Bees”

In my own yard I have two apple trees, two service berry trees, two mulberry trees, a mountain ash, raspberry bushes, flower gardens and a small vegetable garden. I have noticed dwindling fruit from the trees over the past several years. I am convinced that part of the reason for declining fruit yields is the use of pesticides and loss of insect habitat in my neighborhood. It is my intention to provide a habitat for mason bees to mate, lay eggs, hibernate, and hatch out in the spring and to avoid spraying of any pesticides. According to the information I have found during my research, within a few years it is possible to encourage a thriving mason bee hive population that will insure the pollination of fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and berry bushes.

Interesting information about mason bees:

• Mason bees are solitary bees: This means there is not a “queen” bee for a colony. Each female bee can lay up to 20-30 eggs in a season. These bees do not form hives with only one queen bee like honey bees. Instead, each female reproduces a new generation of male and female offspring. The female offspring outnumber the male about 2:1.

• Mason bees prefer to nest in narrow tubular holes. Commercially available cardboard tubes: 6” long x 5/16” diameter are ideal for mason bees to nest in. Once used, they must be replaced. Mason bees will not reuse an old nesting place, and the danger of harmful bee parasites infecting the hive is increased by failure to remove old nesting tubes.

• Mason bees are fans of cold/wet weather. They become active earlier than honey bees. Mason bees become active in early spring when temperatures are in the low 50’s. These bees do not mind wet weather. Because of this ability, they are valued pollinators for fruit bearing trees, bushes, etc.

• Mason bees are non-aggressive. The male bees cannot sting and the female bees usually do not sting unless captured or harmed. Scientists believe this is because these bees do not make honey and do not have to “protect” their hive. They collect only enough pollen to feed themselves and their offspring.

Design and Construction

• Mason bee “hotels:” These hives should be placed at least 48 inches from the ground— either on a pole or on a tree. If the “hotel” is hung on a tree, the “hotel” should be attached using a bungee cord or similar device to avoid harming the tree. These manmade hive/hotels can also be mounted under eves or any protective area. The hives need to be sheltered from the rain. The wood should not be stained or finished with any chemical. I chose to use cedar because it does not require any sealant or coating and will last thirty to forty years. The hotel I made for my class project is mounted on a pole.

• The mason bee hotel I have purchased for my yard will be mounted under our garage eave and face south. (I do not have the tools to build another hotel like the one I made at UWM.)

• Ideal location for the hotels: Ideally, your mason bee hotel will face to the east or south for optimum sunshine. It is best if the hive is not in constant shade. The hive needs to be placed within 300 feet of a pollen source. Fruit trees, berries, vegetable gardens, and flower gardens are ideal locations for a hive location. It is recommended that these bee hotels/houses be installed when the fruit trees and flowering trees are blossoming. It is critical that the tubes are sheltered from the rain!

• After the hotel is installed, there is little upkeep; however, used bee hive tubes must be discarded and replaced! I ordered my mason bee tubes from Kinsman Company. Here is their website:


After the previous year’s bees have laid their eggs and left the hive, the bees will seal the tubes with mud. In the spring, the male bees will emerge, feed on pollen, return, impregnate the females, and leave. Females will exit the tube, feed on pollen, and return to the hive to previously unoccupied tubes and lay their eggs. Females can lay up to six or seven eggs in each tube, and they can lay up to 30 eggs in one year. In the rear of the tube, the female lays eggs that will produce females. In the front two sections of the tube, the female will lay two male eggs. When all of the mud walls are broken open, one can tell whether or not the hatchlings have emerged.

• It is important to have a source of water and mud: During the spring hatching/mating season, it is critical that the mason bees have a good source of water and mud. The mud is used to seal off compartments inside their egg-laying tube. The best mud for this purpose is made of clay. Make sure that the area around your hive is well watered and that there is mucky soil available for the bees.

Maintenance Report


The mason bee hotel should be located in a sheltered area, within 300 feet of flowering trees, fruit trees, or flowering/fruit bearing bushes. It is recommended that the bee hotel face south to south east. It should be in partial shade. The hotel needs to be approximately 48 inches from the ground, so it will be necessary to dig a two-foot-deep hole and solidly compact the earth around the cedar pole. Installation should occur when trees and bushes are blossoming.


Maintenance of the mason bee hotel is relatively simple. After the first year, and for each succeeding year, it will be necessary to remove and replace the used bee tubes. You will be able to determine which ones have been used by observing that the mud the bees used to seal the tubes has been broken open. This replacement operation can be done in the late fall. I have purchased a bee tube replacement kit. See photo: The company I have ordered these tubes from is Kinsman Company in Pennsylvania. Here is their website:

Final Thoughts

The past…

When we were introduced to this final project, my instant reaction was to recoil, worry, and wonder how I would be able to wrap my head around all the requirements. It seemed to be a hugely daunting task—much more than I had bargained for. I knew we would be working with wood. I had seen projects from previous classes, and I was looking forward to taking a stab at the project. I quickly did an about-face after listening to Lakeshore State Park manager, Tom Kroeger’s lecture about the critical importance of raising public awareness concerning the rapid, world-wide decline of invertebrate populations. The intrigue of being part of an information gathering/information sharing project peaked my imagination and allayed many of my fears; however, there were many nights I had restless dreams worrying about this task. The idea that most captivated my spirit was that ART can help direct and sway public opinion.

Mention bugs to anyone and the likelihood is that there will be a negative reaction. Point out the facts about these critters, and most people will learn to take a different look at animals that most of us consider to be pests.

The work really began that first day during the lecture and presentations. It was a well thought out plan and an elegant rubric. The steps we followed to bring the project to fruition will serve me and my students well for years to come:

• Research: gather information about your subject matter

• Sketch: make rudimentary sketches of initial ideas (none are “pie-in-the-sky”

• Draft/draw: create a finalized drawing

• Model: create a scale model of the project

• Revise: analyze, criticize, and seek the advice of a reliable outside source

• Create: after all the above steps have satisfactorily been completed, create the project, but be willing to be flexible and make changes as necessary

My experience following this process was wonderful. I came into the woodworking shop with a very clear understanding of what I needed to do. I came early and stayed late. I quickly planed my wood to the desired thickness and cut the pieces per my cut list. I quickly assembled my work only to find that because the material was “cupped,” none of my joints were solid. I was desperate and bereft. Thankfully, my instructor was calm and full of good advice. In the end, I believe my project was made to the best of my ability.

The present…

Today my work was critiqued by my peers and my instructor. My piece was not nearly as elaborate as many of the works of my peers, but all of my peers were kind and had positive things to say. I felt relieved and pleased. I was glad to have reached the end of this semester and been able to say that I gave my best effort. Many of my peers had superior designs—in particular, the woman who created an octagonal piece, and the woman who created a piece that looked like a city-scape. I realized that for me, the project was defined by the concept that form follows functionality. In other words, I realized that I was driven by the needs of the insect I chose to create a “hotel” for. I learned (thanks to the input of my instructor) that simplicity does not necessarily indicate a diminutive concept, and that in fact, simplicity can be used to our advantage…

The Future…

I have already taken steps for the future by purchasing ready-made mason bee hotels for my siblings’ Christmas presents! (We are all convening at my home this year, and I will be able to explain my unusual gift. My siblings are activists and help spread the word. We need to start somewhere. Our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our representatives need to be informed. The word that needs to be spread is that all of us need to make dramatic changes in how we do business, how we use resources, and what we do to promote a sustainable habitation on this planet. We need to inspire others to help spread the word and make necessary changes to insure the current earth-destroying policies are changed. We need to support pro-environmental groups, practice what we preach, and defeat those whose only concern is profit. We need to do this because there will be no profit in the future if we succeed in destroying our habitat.

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