I just love looking for inspiration for my wildlife garden while walking with my two Plott Hounds in the woods nearby. And recently I came across something really exciting — a Bald-faced Hornet nest. Fortunately, Otis and Morgan are used to me stopping frequently in the woods to photograph flowers, insects, birds, and other natural wonders, and they lay down quietly at my feet while I took photo after photo of this fanstastical nest.
Bald-faced Hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) are not really hornets at all, but members of a genus of wasps called yellow jackets, but since their coloration is black and white, they are not commonly called yellow jackets.
Each spring a fertilized Bald-faced Hornet female who has spent the winter protected in a tree crevice, rock pile, or maybe in the walls of buildings, will emerge and start building her nest. She does this by chewing up strips of wood, which mixes with her sticky saliva and she takes this paste of cellulose to construct her papery nest.
Upon completion of a few cells of this nest, the female Bald-faced Hornet will begin laying eggs. She will feed the larva a mixed diet of flies, other yellow jackets, and many other insects. These first offspring will then assume the duties of nest building, food collection, feeding larva, and nest protection. All offspring at this time are female.
As spring progresses into summer, the nest becomes quite large, and the population may reach over 700 Bald-faced Hornets filled with more workers who continue to expand the nest, which may reach the size of a basketball. And what a work of art this completed nest is!
Adults eat flower nectar, fruit, tree sap and insects. In the process of nectar collection, they are good pollinators in your wildlife garden.
Like other paper wasps, Bald-faced Hornets aggressively defend their nests, so you don’t want to encourage nest-building near your house or other areas of your wildlife garden that you (or your dogs) spend a lot of time in. Our team member Loret T. Setters has developed quite a process in paper wasp nest relocation in her Florida wildlife garden, as she has had to move these nests several times now.
At the end of the summer, the Bald-faced Hornet queen will lay eggs that will become both male and female. These eggs hatch and mating occurs. All of the hornets will die, including the old queen, except for newly mated females, who will find a safe space to spend the winter, and the cycle will start all over again the following spring.
Have you had the opportunity to watch paper wasps build their nests in your wildlife garden?
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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