Peering Into The Hornets’ Nest

Last summer, I wrote about the hornets’ nest that was hanging in the shrubbery near our lower gardens.  You can read that story HERE. While researching that story, I found that the nests are abandoned in the winter, so…

Yesterday, I cut down the hornets’ nest and took it apart. The rest of this post is mostly photos of what I found, and my comments and conjectures.

First, I noticed that one side of the nest seemed to have had a small explosion. Hornet Nest GCGIt was blown out from the inside.

Then, as I cut it down, I realized that it was attached in several places to the branches of the shrub, although after I cut it apart, I didn’t notice twigs or branches growing through the nest, just at the edges.hornet nest GCG The nest could swing in the wind, but it wasn’t going to blow away.

I noticed that the bottom entry hole of the nest was nicely shaded with a branch, too.hornet nest GCG

I couldn’t easily cut the nest in half, so I dismantled it, beginning at the bottom. I discovered, first, a few cells on a stem hornet nest GCGwhich led to a section of cells that filled the entire nest.  It was like the few small ones were an “entry way” to the first floor.  A few of the cells in the large section were filled with larvae, but only a few.

Yet another stem led to the “second floor”–hornet nest GCGanother section of cells spreading across the entire nest.

At the top of this second floor, I found another small “entry” (a back door?).hornet nest GCG

I admired the hard work, the engineering, the time and patience it took to build this intricate, air cooled home.  I tried to count the layers of paper that covered the nest, and pored over the striations in the coverings, thinking of all the old wood that went into this home.hornet nest GCG

Take your time. Look at these photos.  Let me know what you think.

And, remember, somewhere under a rock, a queen is waiting for spring to start the cycle anew.

The Hornet’s Nest

We noticed it first while mowing the lawn. It was in one of the hedgerow cedar trees that we had never trimmed—you know, the type of tree that likes to reach out and grab your hat when you mow underneath?GreenCircleGrove, Hornet's Nest

My husband, who was mowing that day, is used to ducking under the branches, and so wasn’t smacked in the face.

I was intrigued.

I’ve seen these before, of course, but never one quite so close to the ground, so I grabbed the camera, snapped a few pictures, and began reading about these fascinating homes.

Here’s what I learned:

  • It’s a hornet’s nest. To be specific, a bald-faced hornet’s nest—and to be even more specific, the bald-faced hornet is not a true hornet, but a member of the yellowjacket family.
  • The insects in the nest are referred to as a “colony” and the colony has a queen.
  • The queen builds the nest. Or at least, she begins building the nest by gathering the cellulose from old wood, chewing, adding saliva, and making a few papery brood cells. She starts the colony by nurturing the eggs she adds to the brood cells, and after that the colony expands as these first workers begin adding to the nest, gathering food and taking over the nurturing.
  • The workers also protect the nest. They can sting multiple times, not losing their stinger as honeybees do.
  • It was no accident that the nest was located near our lower vegetable garden. These insects’ diet, early in the season, needs to be heavy on protein, so other small insects are gobbled up. Later on, carbohydrates are gathered in the form of pollen. Small insects and pollen are found in the garden, of course. Therefore,
  • Bald faced hornets are one of the types of insects known as “minor pollinators”.
  • The nest itself is a work of engineering delight. The small vents toward the top of the nest allow ventilation, and they are shaped so that rain does not enter the nest.GreenCircleGrove Hornet's Nest
  • At the very bottom of the nest, a hole allows the hornets to enter and leave. It was at the point I was angling my camera to show you this hole, that I realized there were quite a few of those protective baldfaced hornet’s angling toward me. I don’t have a photo of that area to show you.
  • When the weather turns cold, the worker bees die off. By the time a couple of hard frosts have hit, the only living insects will be newly fertilized queens that will overwinter in a protected place, waiting for spring when they will begin their own new colonies.
  • The nest is only used one year.

There’s more to learn, but I plan to do that after the hard frosts. I can hardly wait to take that emptied out, papery nest down and take it apart to show you what the interior looks like.

While I’m waiting, I’ll stay a respectful distance away from that particular branch of the cedar tree. I don’t care to discover exactly what “madder than a hornet” means.

If you’d like to read more, I found these sources helpful:

Baldfaced Hornet

Bald-faced Hornet Facts

Controlling Wasps, Hornets and Yellowjackets

This post is shared with The HomeAcre Hop!

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