AUGUST
1989

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

8-01-89

Hornet Artisans

Once again, Mother Nature has completed her age-old ritual:   the shedding of leaves.  Each year as winter approaches, deciduous trees in temperate climates everywhere drop their excess baggage.  Those leaves, like lovers scorned, float aimlessly earthward.

But the annual departure of the leaves reveals more than just bare, nurturing limbs.  Hornet's nests, hidden from view by summer foliage, suddenly stand naked against the winter sky.  Hornet artisans build and maintain their homes for months.  Then in the fall, like the leaves that had concealed it, the hornet's nest is left to the wiles of nature.  It will soon be gone.

Bald-faced hornets, their names come from the white spots between their eyes – are engineers of the highest order.  They construct their globe-shaped nests from a paper-like material.  The hornets collect wood from any available source, and by chewing and mixing it with saliva, they produce the nest material.  Because these insects frequently use different sources of wood, the nest may appear multicolored.

As the summer progresses, the nest is enlarged to accommodate a growing family.  By the summer's end, many nests are basketball-sized or larger.

Bald-faced hornets pack a powerful sting, and few things are madder than a mad hornet!  However, most hornets are quite docile, at least when away from their nests.  However, they are willing, even, anxious, to sting in defense of the home.

Hornets feed protein to their young.  They are active hunters and can frequently be found around homes in pursuit of flies.  They have even been known to land on people after mistaking a button or spot on clothing for a food item.

Hornets are beneficial because they prey on pest insects, but some people might say the greatest benefit of bald-faced hornets is the decorative value of their nests.  Indeed, many hornet nests have ended up hanging over the mantel of the fireplace.  Procuring such a decoration from the wild carries with it the inherent risk of introducing a few hornets into the house.

Each fall bald-faced hornet queens mate and seek shelter in woods to overwinter.  The next spring, the queen starts the process over.  The remaining workers stay with the nest until they are killed by freezing temperatures.

Of course, the rather fragile nest must maintained constantly, and a nest will not last long when exposed to seasonal winds and marauding animals.  Therefore, a good nest for decoration must be procured after the tenants are deceased but before it is blown to pieces.  That, my friends, is where the rub – or rather the sting – comes in.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Carol McGrew