Autumn Reveals Nature’s Wonders
November’s wind stripped the leaves off one of our maples and revealed a big gray football-shaped bald-faced hornet nest. Although we’d walked under it all summer, we had no clue it was there.
This fall many people will discover similar “paper wasp” nests in their trees or shrubs or even tucked near a light fixture. Made of a paper-like material, the nest was really made by insects called “bald-faced hornets” that are related to other wasps, including yellow jackets.
These social wasps can attack in droves. Their sting hurts. Because their stingers are smooth, unlike honey bees, they can sting again and again.
So, what do you do when you spot a nest on a crisp fall afternoon? Leave it alone!
The insect’s life history gives the best clue on how to avoid painful stings.
Last fall the colony of 500, or so, worker wasps died as the weather cooled. The fertile queen survived by tucking herself under a rotting log somewhere to slumber through winter. Come spring she’ll make a tiny paper-like nest, usually in a tree, and lay eggs that become workers. These hard-working new insects expand the nest and forage widely.
They are omnivores eager to dine on rotting fruit, but among their favorite foods are caterpillars and adult insects. Bald-faced hornets are a gardener’s friend, removing vegetable-chomping insects. They also sip on nectar so are good pollinators.
Aggressive or Protective?
Most sources claim they are highly aggressive, and they are if someone disturbs their nest. Several years ago, an adult neighbor spotted a nest above the doorway that the family had used all summer. He tried to knock it down and only damaged the nest. His misguided aggression unleashed an attack by dozens of upset bald-faced hornets. Stung many times, he’ll likely never again molest a nest.
We walked under and near the bald-faced hornet’s nest in our yard many times this summer and didn’t even know it was there. They didn’t attack us. Rather, they snacked on our vegetable gardens’ pests.
The lesson: leave these insects and their nest alone.
Ironically, by the time most people discover a nest in very late fall, the colony has already abandoned it. The best thing to do is NOTHING. Winter’s wind, rain, and snow will disintegrate the nest, and the queen will find a new spot to build next year’s colony.