Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bald-faced Hornets

When visiting friends in Massachusetts recently, we discovered evidence that they rarely, if ever, used one of the entrances to their house. Next to the door was this large, hornets' nest.

photo by PicoloNamek Wikimedia
It belonged to bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespua maculata), a species found only in North America.  Hornets are very aggressive, and use of this door would undoubtedly result in being stung repeatedly. Nests rarely get this large unless they escape notice or are in out of the way places.

I discovered this one on my own house a few years ago. Since then I'm more vigilant and try to destroy them before a significant population builds up.  That's fairly easy to do. Bald-faced hornets are an annual species. Queens lay eggs late in summer that will develop into fertile insects. These new queens and drones mate after emerging and as winter approaches, the newly-fertilized queens find spots to hibernate over winter while all of the other hornets die off. The nests are abandoned, never to be used again.

Next spring the queens that were fertilized the previous year begin a new nest and lay eggs into it. Workers expand it as they emerge and the nest grows throughout the season, sometimes reaching a height of 3 feet. One wants to find them while they're still an inch or two across and destroy them then. Otherwise it can be quite hazardous.


  1. That is a big nest on your friends front area!

  2. Hi Jim...I just took some photos of one of these on my neighbors tool shed.. hornets where gone thank goodness..because I am allergic to there sting..not fun!!
    It is so amazing the nest they make ..the details, and sculpture are unbelievable!!
    Good information, and photos!! I get rid of the nest as soon as I see they are at work , but have to use a pesticide sometimes even though I hate to, but I can't take the risk..last time I got bit I spent 4 hours in the cardiac unit at the hospital eeeks : }

  3. Beautiful shots, Jim. We coexisted for several years with a large hornets' nest near our steps. Their flight pattern crossed out pathway and we learned to pause and look before proceeding. No one was ever stung. Of course, if one were to menace the nest, there would be a real problem.

  4. I appreciate the danger but that huge nest really is a work of nature's art.

    1. People frequently collect them after the hive dies off. You'll see them in stores and offices, used for decoration.