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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker & European Hornet Sign

Congratulations to “mariagianferrari,” who came the closest to solving the Mystery Photo when she correctly guessed that the missing bark was the result of a partnership between an insect and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).  The sapsucker arrived first and pecked the vertical rows of rectangular holes in the trunk of the tree in order to obtain sap as well as the insects that the sap attracts.  (Usually these holes are not harmful, but a tree may die if the holes are extensive enough to girdle the trunk or stem.)

The second visitor whose sign is apparent between the sapsucker holes is the European, or Giant, Hornet (Vespa crabro).  This large (3/4″ – 1 ½ “) member of the vespid family was introduced to the U.S. about 200 years ago. Overwintering queens begin new colonies in the spring and the 200-400 workers of a colony then forage for insects including crickets, grasshoppers, large flies and caterpillars to feed to the larvae. 

In addition, the workers collect cellulose from tree bark and decaying wood to expand their paper nest, which is what has occurred between the sapsucker holes, effectively girdling the apple tree.  The nutritious sap that this collecting exposes is also consumed by the hornets. We don’t often witness this activity because most of it occurs at night.

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7 responses

  1. Alice

    Poor apple tree, what a demise.

    October 16, 2020 at 8:42 am

  2. Susan Greenberg

    Mary,Thanks for the news.  I admit I am not familiar with the European hornet.  Goes to prove we are never too old to learn something new!A query though, what is the significance of the clothes pegs shown in your photo?Stay well and keep up your super work.Regards,Dean

    October 16, 2020 at 10:00 am

    • Hi Dean and Susan,
      I have no idea about the clothes pegs — I have only seen the photo, no firsthand observation and I didn’t think to ask the person who submitted the photo! Stay safe.

      October 18, 2020 at 3:43 pm

  3. Dick Bennett

    sorry to bother you … but are these large Euro Hornies here in New England (Maine)Love your sight and your book is a fav on going giving gift to friends/families, etc.

    October 16, 2020 at 10:39 am

    • Hi Dick,
      Yes, European hornets are here in New England — they are different from the Asian Hornets that have appeared in the West. I have not personally seen one, however!

      October 18, 2020 at 3:44 pm

  4. Mary, I have never seen sapsucker holes so big. Usually what I see are horizontal rows of smaller holes. I guess sapsuckers must make both kinds of holes? To me, those holes almost looked like acorn woodpecker holes, but of course we don’t have aco
    rn woodpeckers in New England.

    October 16, 2020 at 5:29 pm

  5. Hi Kathie,
    Yes, I agree, they are huge for being sapsucker holes. Usually they are much smaller, like you said. I am not sure how or why they get this big…just found out you know Gail Holmes? Small world! Best to you. Stay safe.

    October 18, 2020 at 3:46 pm

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