The Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata)


(Pictured to the left: The bald-faced hornet nest in its prime)

            All summer long, I have been following the rise of this bald-faced hornet nest, and now in the brisk Autumn weather it has come to its fall. The nest was no longer active and I thought it would be best if I removed it. For one, these carnivorous wasps choose a curious place to shack up: At the bottom of a solar panel where they would be taken on joyrides with the movements of the sun. While it was active, this nest was in an area with lots of foot traffic (next to the hoop house and in front of the garden shed). Since bald-faced hornets are quite aggressive when it comes to potential intruders, and there may be an average of 400 workers ready to guard their home fully equipped with a venomous sting, I have only been able to observe these insects from afar. After the early first frost came, their nest did not make it. I remember walking around the field looking at the damage on plants that did not get covered, and noticing the wasps’ majestic palace lost to the cold of the night. P1240162The bald-faced hornets' nest almost looked as if it had exploded, and I wish I could have seen its collapse---did it crack all at once or did smaller papery pieces slip down as it warmed up? Their construction skills of chewed wood mixed with saliva to create these papery nests is fascinating, but I suppose these annual structures aren’t built to last, at least in this climate. Queens will overwinter in any place to stay secure (like the remainder of the nest in some cases), and leave to build a new home in the spring, lay eggs and then the workers will take over the construction.  The workers, all infertile females, will continue to build and protect the nest to have a place for their livelihood as well as for the queen to dwell, lay eggs, and (for the workers to) raise her brood. The males are unfertilized eggs and their sole mission to to mate with future queens. The queen stores sperm from the males that have mated with her in her spermatheca, where she has enough sperm to fertilize hundreds of eggs destined to be workers.


(Below: Notice the exposed cells, which is where the brood-rearing happens.)

P1240167Above: The nest in a box. It will be frozen to make certain nobody else is home and then I will open parts of it up.) P1240169

 (Above: The remaining layers of the nest that will decompose during the winter months.)

           While knocking down the nest, I have found what I have identified as a sluggish overwintering qP1240177ueen bald-faced hornet. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I am judging by the elongated abdomen, and the fact that this was the sole inhabitant of the nest. I have collected her and I have since released her back into nature! Will she simply die from the unexpected energy spent or can she successfully go back to overwintering? I hope she survives! P1240217  "Your apple was tasty and everything, but can you let me out of here now?"