Thu 26 Jun 2008
My neighbor George Stamoulis this past week pointed out another bit of nature nesting on our hill. Several of George’s pine trees have limbs overhanging Campolindo Road, and at the end of one limb, a colony of baldfaced hornets have built a nest the size of a Cranshaw melon.
Baldfaced hornets, which are found throughout North America, are really a type of wasp and distinct from European and Asian hornets. They are in the same scientific order as yellowjackets, Vespidae, and somewhat resemble them.
The hornets haven’t attacked any of us on Campolindo Road, but George is worried that a delivery truck will knock the nest down. So far, however, even the garbage trucks have managed to miss it. Good thing because the “worker” wasps, infertile females, are extremely protective of their nests and will repeatedly sting anyone who disturbs it. (The males, “drones,” have no stingers.)
Baldfaced-hornet nests, which have been known to reach three feet tall, are made of a paper-like material the worker wasps produce by chewing old wood. Starch in their saliva binds the wood fibers to create the paper.
“Every year young queens that were born and fertilized the previous year start a new colony and raise their young,” Wikipedia notes. “This continues through summer and into fall. As winter approaches, the wasps die, except for young fertilized queens which hibernate underground or in hollow trees. The nest is generally abandoned by winter, and will most likely not be reused.”