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These tiny houses give solitary urban bees a place to live

Yes, you must buzz to get in.

What do you know about bees? They live in hives, they serve a queen, and they produce honey. That’s all true–but for only about 10% of bee species in the world.

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“Normally when we think of bees we imagine the most common species, the European honeybee (Apis mellifera), but in reality, about 90% of the bee species (there are almost 25,000 species in the world) are considered solitary bees,” says industrial designer Gabriel Calvillo.

[Photo: Sergio López]

Today, bee populations are on the decline. Typical conservation efforts often focus on honeybees, but scientists have found this strategy can be severely flawed, since it overlooks a majority of pollinators in the world.

For all those solitary bees, which otherwise find refuge in soil and rocks, Cavillo’s firm MaliArts designed Refugio: a series of homes for solo-living bees. Think of them as apartments, or co-op living, for our six-legged friends.

[Photo: Sergio López]

Refugio looks a more like a collection of bird houses than any hive you’ve ever seen. One unit features a large, ceramic cone. Another uses a lip to capture water to drink. Perhaps the most visually striking bee house stacks different types of wood, and uses holes of various diameters, to serve as microapartments for various bees.

“The selection of materials also responds to this research, in the case of the shelter, different modules could be used by different species of bees, some species prefer soft woods while others seek refuge in the ground or in rocks,” says Cavillo. “We used pine wood without finishing and ceramics without enamel, trying to imitate what they could find in nature.”

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[Photo: Sergio López]
By “nature,” he doesn’t just mean what we would think of as the “natural” or rural world. In fact, solitary bees have a strong foothold in urban environments, like Mexico City, where Cavillo did field research. Ironically, urban areas feature less frequent use of pesticides and fewer monoculture plantations than commercial farms, so bees can thrive even amongst the concrete jungle. “They can find many flowers in gardens, parks, and urban farms,” says Cavillo. “I think it is very interesting to think about how cities can also play a role in the conservation of biodiversity.”

Working under a grant from Mexico’s government agency on culture, FONCA, Cavillo not only developed this prototype bee housing, but field guides that explain how it can be implemented, along with several species of plants, to create welcoming, healthy homes for bees. For now, he considers this work to be in the experimental phase, but he hopes to commercialize his houses next year.

“We are very interested in being able to scale the project,” he says. “The more bees the better!”

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day

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