How to make a bug hotel: a ladybird lodge
Find out how to build a simple bug hotel. Ladybirds and other insects will be grateful for the shelter provided by this pine cone palace.
- Find a sheltered spot in the garden or a shed.
- Push three pine cones together by interlocking their scales.
- Put the pine cones on the ground and add more to create a base layer.
- Add a twig across multiple pine cones, inserting it between the scales. This will help hold the pine cones together. Repeat this as many times as necessary.
5. Fill any gaps between the pine cones with dry leaves.
6. Build up layers in a pyramid formation.
7. Add a roof by leaning a couple of tiles across the pine cones at an angle and your ladybird lodge is ready.
- When you are collecting your pine cones, leaves and twigs outside, avoid natural piles of these items - they might already be a home for wildlife.
- Pine cones close their scales when they get wet. Adding a simple roof will help keep your ladybird lodge dry and avoid this happening. If you don't have tiles, you can use a couple of flat pieces of wood instead. Leaning them against the pine cones at an angle will help the rain drain off.
- Ladybirds start to look for suitable sites in which to hibernate in late autumn, once temperatures and their food supply decrease, so try to get your bug hotel in place by then.
- Various minibeasts are likely to explore your insect hotel throughout the year, not just during autumn and winter. Why not check it from time to time to see what's visiting and record your observations in a nature journal?
Where is the best place to put an insect hotel?
What site to pick for a bug hotel depends on the type of hotel and the anticipated guests. This one is ideal for ladybirds looking for somewhere to spend the winter.
Generally, insects are better able to survive cold temperatures when the temperatures are stable, rather than fluctuating between freezing and thawing. With that in mind, try to choose somewhere sheltered for your ladybird lodge, if possible.
Insects will generally choose to overwinter somewhere they think they have a good chance of surviving. They also need to be able to find and get to it. If you find that your bug hotel doesn't get any guests this winter, try a different location next year.
Do all ladybirds hibernate?
All species of ladybird in the UK hibernate. Insect hibernation is called diapause. Ladybirds do this in their adult state. They survive the cold winter months and accompanying food shortages by becoming dormant. They take shelter and enter a state of suspended animation, where their metabolism slows and their temperature drops.
Some ladybird species hibernate individually, hunkering down in gaps in tree bark, cracks in rocks or piles of leaf litter. Others gather in big clusters.
When the weather warms up around April, the beetles emerge from their diapause to mate and lay eggs.
Sometimes ladybirds seeking somewhere to hibernate find their way into our houses and hide in crevices in window frames or tuck themselves away in the corner of a cool room. The heating in our homes can result in them waking up prematurely mid-winter, before aphids or other food is available. Since this is likely to result in starvation, it is good to provide outside alternatives for ladybirds to shelter in, such as an insect hotel.
What ladybirds are likely to use this insect hotel?
There are around 50 species of ladybird in the UK, but only around half of them are what most of us would recognise as a ladybird - termed 'conspicuous ladybirds'. Here are six of the ladybird species you're most likely to encounter in a UK garden.
The most common garden ladybird is the seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata). They overwinter in a variety of places, including curled dead leaves.
Another very common UK ladybird is the two-spot ladybird (Adalia bipunctata). It's one of the species that most often overwinters in buildings.
Harlequin ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis) tend to hibernate in big groups. This non-native ladybird arrived in the UK in 2004. It's another species you might spot in large numbers in your house. It's hard to identify from its colour and spots because these vary a lot, but look out for the distinctive white triangle in the centre of its head.
10-spot ladybirds (Adalia decempunctata) also hibernate in large groups, often in sheds or under loose tree bark. They're often found in urban areas that have lots of deciduous trees.
The 14-spot ladybird (Propylea quattuordecimpunctata) is the UK's most common yellow and black ladybird, but it is much less vivid than the 22-spot species and the spot shape and amount of each colour vary a lot. It's another ladybird that often hibernates in leaf litter.
Despite their name, pine ladybirds (Exochomus quadripustulatus) live on a diverse range of trees and shrubs. In gardens they're also often found on plants such as thistles, camellias and firethorns. Come wintertime, they nestle among leaf litter, in foliage and in bark crevices.
Other insect hotel guests: lacewings
Your bug hotel may welcome more than just ladybirds. Lacewings are another kind of insect that may choose to overwinter in it.
As their name suggests, lacewings have delicately veined, translucent wings which look like lace. They hold these tentlike over their body when resting.
There are 20 green lacewing species in the UK and 31 brown species.
Many adult lacewings perish in winter, but some hibernate, and this insect hotel will provide perfect dwellings for them during their diapause.
The common green lacewing is one you're likely to encounter in gardens. It is one of only a few green lacewings that hibernate as an adult and the one you're most likely to find in your house. Up to two centimetres long, it has large golden eyes and a lime-green body which turns straw-coloured in winter. But it's hard to differentiate different green lacewing species and requires careful examination.
Good for the garden
Many species of lacewing and ladybird are voracious predators of aphids and other garden pests that suck sap and can weaken plants, such as scale insects.
Lacewing larva feed on many species of soft-bodied invertebrates, particularly aphids. Some lacewing species even wear the dried-out carcasses of aphids they've sucked the juices from, using them as camouflage as they hunt more aphid prey. Some lacewing species also feed on aphids as adults.
Many ladybird adults and larvae are also natural predators of scale insects and aphids, including greenfly, blackfly and woolly aphids.
In fact, ladybirds and lacewings are so effective at keeping pest numbers under control that some are sold as biological control agents. But you can also encourage their presence in your garden by not using pesticides, which kill them as well as the pest insects you want to get rid of.