Bee Houses Keep Pitt Abuzz

University of Pittsburgh student interest, study, and action on pollinators yield on-campus housing for solitary bees.

While Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood is booming with construction, you might have noticed a new different kind of housing is going up: new “apartments” for bees.

Thanks to a student project dubbed “Bee Friendly Pitt,” Pitt’s campus now boasts seven homes for solitary bees which also raises awareness about these important native pollinators.  Solitary bees (such as sweat bees, mining bees, and leafcutter bees), tend to fly under the radar. They don’t live in hives or produce honey, yet because they’re indigenous, they’re exponentially more effective at pollination than honeybees (which are native to Europe).  Of the 300 bee species found in Pennsylvania, about 90% are solitary bees.

The new bee houses are wooden boxes set atop posts 5 to 6 feet tall, filled with cardboard and bamboo tubes that provide a protected spot for solitary bees to lay their eggs. In planning the locations, the team drew upon expertise from the lab of Tia-Lynn Ashman, a distinguished professor in Pitt’s Department of Biological Sciences whose work includes research on pollinators.  Signage will be added near the bee houses to educate passersby about the importance of protecting these very effective pollinators.

Solitary bee house. Rain garden off of Cathedral Lawn, May 2021

Bee Friendly Pitt Started as a project in Ward Allebach’s sustainability course, which focuses on developing impactful sustainability projects on campus and in the community. Pitt student group Students for Sustainability will replace the tubes as needed and ensure the houses are kept clean and well maintained for future generations of bees.

As solitary bees prefer native plants, Pitt’s sustainability goals to increase those sources also support these local pollinators.  Additionally, the bee houses help move Pitt towards a future Bee Campus USA certification — a nationwide effort committed to creating sustainable pollinator habitats on college campuses.

If you’re interested in considering solitary bee houses for your own backyard, they’re not hard to make and install!

Read more about the team behind Pitt’s bee houses.