Yellowjacket nest falls from the sky

Yesterday I was coming down the hill after checking my hives when I saw something I hadn’t noticed before. It was right in the middle of the trail and from a distance looked like a compact pile of wood shavings. Up close, however, I saw that is was a large wasp nest. It was attended by hundreds–maybe thousands–of wasps that looked like yellowjackets. As soon as I got too close I got stung in the back, just below the elastic on my bee jacket. Man, those guys hurt!

I went down to the house, changed into my complete bee suit, and grabbed my camera. What had landed in the trail was actually a small dead branch from a big-leaf maple. The branch was covered in moss where the nest had been attached. The nest had broken into pieces from the fall but you could still see layers of parallel comb filled with brood.

When I turned over the pancake of comb with my hive tool a zillion of those guys bombarded me. In all the years I have photographed honey bees I have never had them coat my hands, the camera, the strap–everything. It was creepy. When I looked through the view finder all I could see were giant black silhouettes moving across the lens. I managed to squeeze out a few photos–mostly out of focus–but at least you get the idea.

I’m still not sure what the outer layers of nest were made from but I will take a closer look when I gather the courage to go up there again. It was kind of scary. I actually don’t know if they are yellowjackets or some other type of wasp. They only thing I know for sure is they have been attacking my honey bee hives, they are yellow and black striped, and they sting. And, yes, they live in trees.


Circular layers of comb filled with brood

Outer layer of hive looks like it's made of curly wood shavings.

A yellowjacket after the "quake"


  • WOW!! Those pictures are so COOL! It looks like a paper wasp nest…but I’m no expert. There are apparently about 13 or more species of yellow jackets.

  • I’m impressed you got such good photos with so many wasps smacking into you! Those look just like the ones we are having some problems with at work. Luckily, most of the hives are pretty strong, but we’ve definitely had a few taken over by those yellowjackets. I can’t figure out where they all come from, but sometimes we’ll take off a lid and the innercover will be COVERED in them and I try to squish them with the side of the lid before they all get away.

    At Jeff’s work, it’s bald faced hornets that are killing off the hives.

    • It’s odd, but last month I was deluged with bald-faced hornets. They seem to be gone now but the yellowjackets are the worst I’ve ever seen them. They are everywhere. I know there has to be more nests around here, but I haven’t found them yet. I’m looking forward to the first freeze.

  • Yes, yellowjackets. Exact subspecies unknown. The nest and envelope (the surrounding material) is called carton and yes it is more or less wood shavings. It is a paper created by wasps when they chew wood and mix it with their saliva.

  • I left my shed door open and the wasps have set up camp next to a frame feeder that wasn’t completely empty. I went in the shed to get my bike yesterday and stirred up a cloud of wasps. I got my bike and ran out fast. Note to self: Seal up the shed in September for now on. Last year we had a few wasps around the hives. This year they’re all over the place. And my new wasp trap is overflowing with wasps. Maybe I put the wasp trap too close to the hives. I don’t know. It’s pretty bad out there though.

  • Same problem a couple weeks ago, had a small leak in a feeder so some sugar was dripping down the side of the hive, sparked a feeding frenzy, set-up traps immediately, beer is a great lure bees won’t go for it but wasps love it, can be stale beer doesn’t matter.

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