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Hornets’ nest decorates winter trees


A bald-faced hornet’s nest dangles from a magnolia tree in December. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A bald-faced hornet’s nest dangles from a magnolia tree in December. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Mother Nature has a way of revealing many of her secrets when the ground is bare and leaves have fallen from the trees.

Irvington reader, J.O., “I recently discovered a bee hive in the maple tree. Do the bees return to the hive and hibernate for the winter?”

Most likely, the nest belongs to bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata), a North American native insect that actually is in the wasp family, related to yellow jackets.

A bald-faced hornet’s nest can be as long as 3 feet with a roundish appearance. The entry and exit hole is toward the bottom of the nest, but usually off to one side. A nest may hold several hundred residents, which live in the familiar caste system of social wasps and bees: queens, workers, drones, new queens.

These black and white hornets are quick defenders of their nest and can get quite aggressive if disturbed, stinging repeatedly.

When the temperature reaches freezing, bald-faced hornets die. Recently fertilized queens hibernate under ground and do not return to last year’s nests.

“Bald-faced hornets do not return to the same nest; each spring female hornets that have survived the winter will find a new location and begin anew,” said Jerry Zimmerman, an experienced beekeeper and physics professor at the University of Indianapolis. “After the first hard freeze it should be safe to cut down the nest.”

If you can’t reach the nest, it will deteriorate naturally.

Here’s more info along with cool images of the bald-faced hornet.

Master Gardener classes to start

<p>Karen Kennedy (left), Wendy Ford and Sandra Timmerberg evaluate the day's planting activity at the City Market. Kennedy and Timmerberg are Marion County Master Gardeners. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp</p>

Karen Kennedy (left), Wendy Ford and Sandra Timmerberg evaluate the day's planting activity at the City Market. Kennedy and Timmerberg are Marion County Master Gardeners. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Learn about wasp nests and more as a Marion County Master Gardener. Marion County Master Gardeners volunteered 15,569 hours educating others and beautifying communities, according to reports submitted by 182 volunteers during the past year. The dollar value of time contributed amounted to $315,272.25.

Afternoon or evening classes are set for 18 Thursdays, Jan. 7 through May 13 at the extension office, 6640 Intech Blvd., near I-465 and West 71st Street. Afternoon sessions will be 1 to 4 p.m. and evening, 6 to 9 p.m. The fee is $95. Completion of the program requires 50 volunteer hours.

For more information, call (317) 275-9286, visit the Master Gardeners’ Web site, or e-mail Debra Schelske, dschelsk@purdue.edu

2 comments to Hornets’ nest decorates winter trees

  • I discovered a bald-faced hornets’ nest in a crabapple tree right beside the walkway between my driveway and the front porch. It’s a wonder I didn’t get stung as much as I was around it without knowing it was there! I left it there, though some people like to bring them inside, AFTER a good freeze, for decoration.

  • The bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula sp) are fierce if you “poke ‘em with a stick,” but i worked in a planting of basil all summer about 4 ft from a nest at the IMA. No problems. Patrons visiting the gardens, getting in and out of cars, using an adjacent trash can were unaware and unmolested. Within reason, i think there is no need to spray active nests. Rather, calmly observe the hornets’ purposeful coming and goings. I’m always amazed at how they create a structure so much larger than themselves, one mouthfull of “paper” at a time – no machines, no tools. And I just love the how the exterior shows swirls of buff, white, cinnamon, and gray – almost like clouds in a post-impressionist painting.

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