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Bald-faced Hornet Nest

If you find a  football-size (or larger), gray, papery structure attached to the branches of a tree or shrub, you’ve probably discovered the nest of a bald-faced hornet. (The only other hornets that build a similar nest are aerial hornets, and their nests usually have wider strips, and less of a scalloped appearance than those of bald-faced hornets.)   This structure is actually a nursery, filled with several horizontal layers of hexagonal cells, in which eggs are laid and larvae are raised.  These horizontal layers are surrounded by a multi-layered envelope, which, like the cells, is made of masticated wood fiber from weathered wood such as fence posts and hornet saliva. The different colors reflect the different sources of wood that have been used.  Although only the queen bald-faced hornet survives over winter (in a rotting log or other protected spot), the workers do not die until  freezing  temperatures have really set in, so wait for another month before approaching a nest!


4 responses

  1. Wonderful timing, had just found the one I walked by unknowingly about a month ago when it was still hidden by leaves . . . Now I know who got me!

    Question: Do they use these structures over multiple years or are they single-season homes?

    October 30, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    • Hi Jenna, Bald-faced hornets in the Northeast build their nests for one season only — in the spring the queen starts to build a new nest, within which she lays a few eggs which develop into workers which then enlarge the nest and the queen lays more eggs,etc. I have seen one winter nest that white-footed mice built a snug little home in, and there may well be other animals which take advantage of this well-insulated domicile. I have often found bits of hornet nest in bird nests, so the nest is recycled and doesn’t go to waste! Further south, hornet nests are used for multiple years, as long as they can withstand the elements.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:46 pm

  2. Peter Stettenheim

    If you find a deserted nest and open it carefully, you can see the tiers of cells inside. Not only is the structure remarkable, but so is the construction process, itself — apparently entirely by instinct. I once had the opportunity to watch wasps as they built their nest on the outside of a cellar window. I could observe them from inches away in complete safety, separated by the window glass. As each wasp entered the nest with a mouthful of chewed wood and saliva, it went to a place under construction and began laying down a ridge of pulp. It acted entirely on its own, without any other wasp giving directions. I concluded that the worker could see what needed to be done and simply went about doing it.

    October 31, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    • That is fascinating, Peter! One winter I discovered a nest built against my shed window, and, like you, could see the interior…at that time of year there were no hornets, but there was a family of mice!

      October 31, 2011 at 4:12 pm

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