Habitat Walls with Cabinets
The University of Maryland Arboretum Outreach Center
Dwelling (Paint Branch Creek) 2015
a habitat wall for wild, solitary nesting bees and wasps
By Sarah Peebles – wall co-concept/design & Sensory Bee Cabinet; Lisa Kuder – wall co-concept/design, UMD lead, production, science advisor (Dennis vanEngelsdorp lab); Henry Raduazo – wall lead build & design advisor.
Location map (UMD, College Park, Maryland USA). A permanent installation.
Dwelling (Paint Branch Creek) is a habitat wall for native bees which integrates a sensory bee cabinet for solitary bees into clay-rich earth mixed with sand and straw (known widely as cob). It creates habitat for two groups of wild, solitary bees and solitary wasps: miner bees, which excavate their own tunnels from vertical earthen surfaces such as cliffs and river banks (genus Anthophora); and, cavity nesting bees and wasps seeking pithy stems such as raspberry bramble, vacated beetle bores in wood and other pre-formed structures. Dwelling was created as a long-term science outreach project with a team of student assistants and volunteers from the university and DC-area community.
In the wall, we created several groups of tunnels of various diameters and lengths using chopsticks and similar tools. We limited how many tunnels we created and spaced them apart to keep natural pests from accruing in large numbers, since large aggregations of parasites and fungi can impact the health of wild bee/wasp populations over time.
We were inspired by the strata of earth which often line river banks and cliff faces preferred by miner bees: the wall’s multiple layers of colourful clay sources and varied cob mixes are structurally distinct (surfaces have not been plastered). Each layer is made of different ratios of sand, earth and straw to test the likes and dislikes of miner bees, especially the region’s native Anthophora abrupta, which are distinct from the imported species A. plumipes (introduced from Japan for agricultural use), which have become much more common in Maryland than native miner bees. The wall’s 2-foot thickness also appeals to Abrupta’s suspected preference for thicker cob.
Using “natural building” techniques, which emphasize the use of local and benign (low processed) materials and technologies, Dwelling demonstrates a sustainable approach to landscape architecture while reflecting an ancient and still vital method of building used around the world.
The sensory bee cabinet is embedded into the wall. Its illustrations of miner bee biology and some local native flowers these bees visit help orient visitors to this group of bees which prefer to make their own tunnels in cliff faces – and who we anticipate will “discover” this site and creates nests in the wall. (Pyrography and milk paint illustrations by artist Mary-Ann Alberga.)
The cabinet houses a plank of wood, grooved on both sides with tunnels and covered with plexiglass, which passively accrues cavity nesting solitaries such as leaf cutter and resin-using bees from the genus Megachile. An embedded vibrational sensor connects to a solar-powered amplifier and transmits sounds made by the cabinet’s inhabitants while they create nests.
To get a feel for these bees in motion up close, see our macro videos with accompanying poems at Odes to Solitary Bees (Peebles/Humphrey 2010) – watch with headphones for the full effect!
The “Audio Bee Cabinet” presents the nuances of nesting activities; pairing magnified views in tandem with amplified sound, it facilitates an enhanced perception of its tiny inhabitants: solitary bees and wasps, and other nest biota in action, up close.
Above: Inside surfaces of the cabinet show solitary wasps, bees and tiny parisitoid wasps also likely to nest here. Natural pests and other “enemies” of solitaries are an integral part of ecosystems.
In the short video below, by Alexandra Simon (for The Diamondback), Lisa Kuder explains about Dwelling and the wild bees it caters to:
Lisa Kuder’s blog about Dwelling explains the biology and the building process. Amazing tunnel nest photos, aerial views & Lisa Kuder leading a section of the “Pollinators in Crisis” class are also posted here: Dwelling on Flickr (UMD’s Botanical Garden page). Dwelling was complemented by a native plant garden serving a bee identification research project with master gardeners by Olivia Bernauer, a Masters Entomology student (Dennis vanEngelsdorp lab), in 2016.
Sarah Peebles’ 2-page synopsis and detailed description of the project complements these blogs: Dwelling synopsis (PDF).
Published articles: Pollinator habitat wall attracts wild bees and curious students (Published in Bee World Volume 92, Issue 3, 2015; by Lisa Kuder); Back-to-School With Native Bees (Beacon, Aug 21, 2015; by Alison Gillespie).
Dwelling was generously assisted by Eric Kuder, Zachary Kahn and a team of UMD students and local volunteers; Audio Bee Cabinet assisted by Mary-Ann Alberga (pyrographic illustrations), Jennifer Rong (cabinetry) and Rob Cruickshank (electronics). Generously supported through USM Foundation/Professor Mike Raupp, Dennis vanEngelsdorp Honeybee Bee Lab and UMD Arboretum Outreach Center. Special thanks to Sam Droege, Kappy Laning and Eric Kuder.