Beekeepers here in North America are all too familiar with the bald-faced hornet Dolichovespula maculata. Depending on where you live, this wasp may also be referred to as a white-faced hornet, blackjacket, or bull hornet.
The bald-faced hornet is actually a close relative of the aerial yellowjacket Dolichovespula arenaria, which also can give beekeepers a hard time. Both live in large nests made of chewed fibers, and both have a taste for insects, including honey bees. In addition, they are often seen sipping on overripe fruit in orchards and berry patches.
Like most other wasp species, these hornets begin a colony in the spring with a solitary queen. The queen mated the prior autumn and spent the winter in a protected place. When spring arrives, she emerges from her nest and searches for a good location to build a home. Then, all by herself, she builds a small nest and raises the first batch of workers.
Once the workers mature, they take over the job of foraging and nest expansion, and the queen can get on with the business of laying eggs. The colony expands rapidly and, by fall, many workers roam the area looking for protein (insects) to feed their burgeoning population.
By autumn the nests can be massive and the colony requires lots of food. Honey bee hives can provide an unparalleled dining experience for the hornets because a tempting selection of courses is readily available—live bees, dead bees, nectar, honey, and pollen. Hornets like it all.
Hornet nests in New York
Mike Riter, an amateur naturalist living in New York, writes a series for the Poughkeepsie Journal about the private lives of stinging insects. Last year he shared some great photos of an open-air honey bee colony that had been living on a golf course. This time around he sent the following photos of bald-faced hornet nests from his local area.
I absolutely love the one in the apple tree. I’ve never seen hornets build like that. I can only assume the nest was begun while the apples were still small and they expanded into the nest as the season progressed. However it happened, it’s an unusual sight.
The photos of fall foliage make me homesick for a northeast autumn. So beautiful! Here, it’s raining as usual. I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I did. Thanks to Mike for some excellent shots.
Honey Bee Suite