Bald-faced Hornet Nest Construction: Starting Small

One of my annual projects is to make note of all the Bald-faced Hornet nests that I am able to spot in Eliza Howell Park (most years, about 10). I usually start seeing them in early September and continue to find more as leaves fall. They are large, but often placed in the thick of tree leaves, not visible until they are full size at the end of summer.

The nests are made of “paper,” wood chewed and mixed with saliva.

This is the first one found in 2021, in early September, visible only when one was almost directly underneath.

This year I have — finally — located a nest in the very early stage of construction.

Only mated female hornets (new queens) remain from last year. When a queen emerges from hibernation, she constructs a nest, lays eggs, and cares for the young workers, all on her own.

This nest, found on June 6, was probably the first stage, the initial construction. It was about three inches long. Since I had never seen an early-stage nest before, I watched until a hornet emerged so I could confirm the species.

If one knows where to stand and where to look, the nest is quite visible. Not only have I found the early-stage nest that I have been hoping for, but I should be able to watch what happens as the season progresses.

I have since stopped by almost daily. For more than a week, there were no noticeable changes, but by June 16, the entrance tunnel had been removed.

Almost every day since, there have been more changes. It looks as though the hornets are tearing apart the previous outer wall and making a new one, a little larger. In the process, some of the inner activity of the nest is visible with the use of binoculars

This is June 21

And this is June 24. Note the outer layer being constructed from the top down

By June 27, the bottom of the nest is beginning to look more closed, more like a small version of a full-size nest. At this point it is approximately softball size.

So, in three weeks, there has been a significant change in the size and some modification of the shape of the nest.

The hornets are actively and energetically engaged in increasing the numbers of new hornets (the queen’s role now is to lay the eggs; the workers construct the cells and care for the young). The workers are also continuously expanding the size of the nest to accommodate the growing population.

In two months, if all goes well, the nest will be home to hundreds of Bald-faced Hornets and will be, perhaps, over a foot long. This one, which I had cut down at the end of October last year and was showing to a group in April, shows how big they typically get.

This story is just beginning; it is only three weeks old. I am looking forward to see how the nest develops and what more I might learn about the behavior of these fascinating insects.

There will likely also be more to follow here.

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