In this article, you’ll see how a bald-faced hornet nest develops from start to finish AND see a nest dissection! You’ll also find out more about how how these social insects function.
We had a colony of bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) take up residence on our back deck. Luckily for the hornets, we’re quite fond of insects.
Usually, we’re more than happy to have predatory insects around to help us manage populations of pest insects in our organic garden — paper wasps, mantids, ladybugs, lacewing larvae, wheelbugs, Florida predatory stink bugs… our gardens are chock full of both predator and prey insects.
However, in the case of bald-faced hornets taking up residence on our back deck, we were a bit nervous. For one, we spend a good bit of time on our back deck, as does Bob the Cat. Bald-faced hornets (which are “aerial yellowjacket” wasps, not true hornets) have a ferocious reputation. Reports of them stinging people abound.
Did we really want 500+ worker hornets in our living space?
First instinct: remove the hornet nest
As the bald-faced hornet nest expanded in size and number of workers, we decided we’d take the hornet nest down.
- Borrow our bee-keeping neighbor’s bee suit.
- Go out at night, cover the nest with a pillow case, and cut it off of our porch overhang.
- Drown the hornets in a bucket or cooler of water (we don’t use insecticides since we eat our yard and have pet ducks who regularly forage around our deck).
Since I love insects, the thought of doing this made me a little sick to my stomach, but it beat having one of us (or a pet) get stung by the hornets.
So we picked up our neighbor’s bee suit and got everything ready for the removal of the bald-faced hornet nest.
Learning about bald-faced hornets
Then The Tyrant and I made the mistake of reading more about bald-faced hornets from various sources, from Wikipedia to entomologists to university extension agencies. Our general philosophy is if we’re going to kill something, we at least have an obligation to learn about it so that: a) we know we’re making an informed choice, and b) we know it’s necessary.
We learned more about the social structure of the colony. We learned more about how bald-faced hornets are amazing predators, help control populations of other insects, and also serve as pollinators.
We also found out that bald-faced hornet nests are only active for one season. Before the first frosts and freezes of fall hit, the colony’s queen will have laid new queens that will fly out of the nest, become impregnated, and overwinter. When the weather warms, they’ll emerge to start new nests elsewhere.
All the remaining bald-faced hornets (including the queen) in the old nest will die with the onset of cold weather.
The next day, we returned our neighbor’s bee suit. We decided we’d do our best to coexist with our bald-faced hornets for the remainder of the warm weather season rather than kill them.
Are bald-faced hornets dangerous?
As best we can tell from online searches, nobody has ever died due to a bald-faced hornet attack. However, the hornets can and do aggressively defend their nests, so anyone with small children or severe allergic reactions to their venom might view them as dangerous and prefer not to live near them.
Despite their scary reputation, our colony of bald-faced hornets seemed to recognize us and our cat as non-threatening since we regularly spent time on our back porch near their nest without ever causing harm or coming too close. Many times, I’d go well within 10 feet of the colony to observe them coming in and out of the nest’s single exit/entry hole, often carrying caterpillars and other insects they’d hunted in our garden.
What’s inside a bald-faced hornet’s nest?
When the temperatures hit freezing last fall, all the bald-faced hornets in the nest died, as expected. We left the nest up over the winter since dealing with it wasn’t high on our priority list. Plus, we were curious to see how the structure held up over the winter without any bald-faced hornet workers to maintain it.
In early spring, we used a knife to cut the nest off of the porch overhang so we could take a closer look inside. As you can see in the photos below, it was amazing!
Insects play so many vital roles in nature. They’re nutrient recyclers, pollinators, predators, food for larger organisms, and so much more.
It’s no stretch to say the survival of insects is critical to the survival of human beings. Yet you may have heard about the massive declines in insect populations around the world in recent decades.
Well, here are a few things you can do about it right now…
Have a yard? Recognize it as potential habitat for trillions of above and below ground insects. Grow a diversity of plant species, especially flowering plants, using organic growing methods. In fact, we recommend turning your yard into an organic edible landscape which makes a lot more sense than simply growing grass.
Perhaps most importantly, take an interest in nature (which you’re a part of, not apart from). It’s absolutely amazing what’s happening all around us all the time. We’re often completely oblivious to it because our brains don’t have the knowledge necessary to allow it to come into view.
The more you know, the more you’ll be amazed — and the more likely you’ll be to create environments that have a regenerative ecological impact.
Now buzz along and get our top-10 tips for starting your organic garden, if this approach sounds like a good idea to you!
Other 6-legged articles that will have you buzzing:
- What do ladybug larvae and eggs look like?
- Praying mantis egg case ID and all about praying mantises
- A message from Fred the Gulf Fritillary butterfly
- Organic mosquito control in your yard
- Organic Japanese beetle control
- Complete guide: how to raise Monarch caterpillars at home
- 3 ways you can save the bees and other pollinators too
- Our top-10 favorite pollinator plants for a summer garden
- Lacewings: how to ID and attract these amazing beneficial insects