In 2017, a study found that in some parts of Germany, the entire flying insect population has declined by 75% over the last 27 years (a trend that has been demonstrated elsewhere). The shocking results moved the Dutch designer Matilde Boelhouwer–who put her skills as a designer to use to help feed insect pollinators in cities thorough a project called Food for Buzz. How? By creating artificial flowers of screen-printed fabric petals and 3D-printed plastic.
She didn’t copy nature’s designs, though. Rather, she found inspiration in actual flowers and came up with her own designs. With insights from entomologists, Boelhouwer learned how each of the “five big” pollinators–bees, bumblebees, butterflies, hoverflies, and moths–feed in order to design the shapes and color patterns in the flowers. To attract bees, for example, she used high-contrast violet and yellow patterns. She learned that bumblebees like mirror symmetry, so she followed that by using simple structures with a mirrored profile.
The polyester flower elements are first printed on a sheet, then cut in a laser printer and attached by metal pins to a hollow 3D-printed container–which is called a receptacle in real flowers. This container is connected to a hollow pedicel, or stalk, which becomes the stem. The stems are hollow too, connected to a base that is full of sugar. When it rains, the water is collected by the flowers’ receptacles and directed down to the base, where it mixes with the sugar. Then, the mixed solution is pumped up to the flower so insects can feed on it.
While artificially feeding pollinators in cities is not a new concept–this magic paper is also designed to save exhausted bees, mixing paper pulp with an energy-rich glucose known as “fondant for bees,” a substance used by beekeepers to feed populations over the winter–this is the most beautiful I’ve seen so far.
While she doesn’t have statistics about how useful they are yet, she has tested them in the real world. “For now we can’t tell how it affects insect population in the long run,” she says over email. “But they do work.” The photos of insects stuffing their faces above are definite proof of that.