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Bald-faced Hornet Nests No Longer Inhabited (if you live where there has been a hard frost)

Mary Holland holding very large wasp nest, which was built above her houseIf you research bald-faced hornet nests you will find that their average size is often compared to that of a football or basketball. The maximum size is said to be between 14 and 18 inches in diameter, and up to 23 or 24 inches in length. The pictured nest (which hung 20 feet above the roof of my house) measures 14 inches wide and 29 inches long – far larger than the average hornet nest!

This entire nest was built in roughly four months. It was started by a queen bald-faced hornet that, after emerging from hibernation this past spring, chewed some wood fiber, mixed it with her saliva and created a few brood cells surrounded by one or more paper “envelopes.” She laid an egg in each cell, and fed the hornet larvae insects which she first masticated into tiny bits. When the larvae pupated and emerged as adult workers, they assumed the duties of nest building, food collection, feeding the larvae and protecting the nest, while the queen continued laying eggs in horizontal tiers of cells. This ongoing activity produced a colony of anywhere from 100 to 400 workers by the end of the summer. Shortly before the first hard frost this fall, the queen left the colony and found a protected spot in which to spend the winter. When freezing temperatures arrived, the workers all died, leaving a nest that will never again be inhabited by bald-faced hornets. (Thanks to Nick Burnham, who ingeniously managed to collect the nest for me, and Gary Trachier for the photo.)

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19 responses

  1. What Robert Frost called the world’s worst judges of human intentions. :o)

    November 3, 2015 at 7:28 am

  2. Ruth

    Mary, are you saying the queen lives forever? or is it a newly developed queen (or several) that goes off to wait for spring?

    November 3, 2015 at 7:48 am

    • The old queen dies in the fall, and a new queen (or queens) who has mated in the fall, overwinters. She will die next fall. Sorry for confusion!

      November 3, 2015 at 8:03 am

  3. Kathie Fiveash

    If you are a teacher and you find and old nest, it is a fascinating structure to dissect with children. I was always a bit timid to do it after only one or two frosts, but you can collect it and wait for a few more frosts, and you will find wonders inside.

    November 3, 2015 at 8:06 am

  4. Pat Nelson

    Some b-f hornets had started a nest under my eaves this summer, but it suddenly halted growth when it got to only a few inches in diameter. It wasn’t far from the phoebe nest and I wonder if the phoebes took advantage of that?

    November 3, 2015 at 8:29 am

  5. Marilyn

    There’s a large nest I’ve been watching, on my property. After a recent wind and rain storm, I found nobody home. There was a fair bit blown off: it is beautiful and intricate.
    So now it is safe to investigate the nest itself – although I hesitate to destroy all that marvelous work.

    November 3, 2015 at 8:29 am

  6. Elizabeth

    I’ve got a big nest on my barn. Glad to learn that they will not return to it. I’m not squeamish about most insects; but bald-faced hornets scare me.

    November 3, 2015 at 10:58 am

  7. I was under the impression that only the new queens overwintered to start a new nest, that the old queen, along with the old workers, all died. These can be a bit aggressive, but are fairly beneficial in eating many insects (including some pests) to feed to their young and in being minor pollinators of plants, since the adults can feed on nectar as well as insects.

    November 3, 2015 at 11:44 am

    • Right you are, Alonso. The old queen dies and the new ones, raised in late summer, breed and then hibernate before starting a new colony next spring.

      November 3, 2015 at 2:30 pm

  8. Hi Mary… That is a beauty & I hope you intend to save it, perhaps tag it with some info, date, location, etc.
    I can almost hear the gears turning from here, the perfect specimen for your next seminar!
    I’m jealous, mine from last season was 60 feet up a maple & was eventually torn apart by blue jays, it was about the size of a basketball…
    BF… WGF Studio53

    November 3, 2015 at 4:13 pm

  9. Susan Holland

    Definitely a beauty and the biggest I have ever seen! What a feat to get it down without damaging it. But perhaps it is too big to hang in your living room?

    November 3, 2015 at 4:53 pm

  10. Great picture!

    November 3, 2015 at 4:58 pm

  11. Kathryn

    Wow Mary! That is a huge nest! They must’ve known there was a naturalist living near by who would totally appreciate their work!

    November 3, 2015 at 5:27 pm

  12. That’s a beauty!

    November 3, 2015 at 9:49 pm

  13. Wallie Hammer

    How long will the queen live? Will she form another colony in the spring?

    November 6, 2015 at 9:45 am

    • I didn’t make it clear that the old queen dies, and new queens that have been raised mate and then overwinter. and start colonies in the each queen lives for about a year.

      November 6, 2015 at 10:21 am

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