BRINGS QUESTIONS ABOUT HORNET NESTS
ecology of temperate zone animals changes with the seasons. The following
explains how one species copes with winter.
Once the leaves disappeared from the woods near our home, I found a
huge oval-shaped hornets nest with no hornets. Where do they go
in winter? What happens to the nest? Can I take it?
You have discovered a bald-faced hornet nest, and you have found it
at the right time of year after the first frost. Like honeybees,
hornets have a queen and a colony of several hundred workers
all females that protect and maintain the nest from spring till
autumn. Unlike honeybees that use the same hive the following year,
old queens and all workers die when cold weather arrives. Recently hatched
new queens are the only survivors. The nest, despite the effort that
went in to building such fine accommodations, is permanently abandoned.
Fertilized queens overwinter in stumps or rotten logs, protected from
the cold. Each will begin a new nest and colony the following spring.
A queens first job is to create a few brood chambers and lay eggs
to produce the first workers to finish the home-building process.
hornet is a close relative of yellow jackets but is black and white
instead of yellow. Its face resembles a fierce-looking mask of ebony
and ivory. Bald-faced hornets are the largest individuals of the wasp
family in North America, approaching an inch in length. Like other wasps
and bees, the workers sting and will unhesitatingly defend their nest.
cycle of bald-faced hornets involves a mixture of art and biology. Hornets
create a paper-covered nest by chewing up pieces of wood, mixing it
with their saliva and turning it into a papier-mâché structure
that looks like a party piñata attached to a limb. But when the
nest is occupied, whacking it with a pole would be a really bad idea.
When their nest is threatened, hornets bolt out the bottom opening like
rapid machine-gun fire headed toward what they consider to be the source
of the problem. Unlike honeybees, which leave their stinger in a victim
and then die, an angry hornet can sting more than once. Successfully
outrunning a phalanx of defending hornets is unlikely, but getting as
far away from the nest as possible will diminish the pursuit of those
that have not already stung you.
the nest on the inside consists of combs made of brood cells comparable
to typical wasp nests seen under the eaves of buildings. The queen hornet
is larger than the workers and busies herself all spring and summer
laying eggs that hatch into workers. Her last efforts at the end of
the growing season are to lay eggs that develop into new queens and
drones, the males that do not defend the colony but leave to mate with
new females from other colonies. In early spring, when sustained warm
weather appears certain, female bald-faced hornets emerge from winter
dormancy and select new nest sites.
nest can be anywhere in a forest. Some are only a few feet off the ground,
ideally located for collecting in the winter for a show-and-tell or
for accidentally bumping into. We found one last year that was chest-high
in a bush and another more than 60 feet high in a tree. Bald-faced hornets
feed not only on nectar, pollen and tree sap but also on insects, including
large ones such as cicadas and praying mantises. The documented record
for the most ambitious capture by one of these flying predators is a
rufous hummingbird. The geographic range of the bald-faced hornet includes
most of the United States and southern Canada.
first frosts, all the workers have perished, the queens have departed,
and the unattended nests will soon be damaged by winter winds and rains.
If youre certain the nest is empty, by all means take it.
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