The Life Cycle of Bald Faced Hornets and how they help the Environment

If you live in North America, chances are you’ve seen a bald-faced hornet. These are those busy female insects that fly around very fast, sting like bees, and eat those other pesky insects that drive you crazy. They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them for the most part, but if you are near their nest in the spring and summer, look out! Bald-faced hornets are very protective, and they can sting multiple times.

Commonly referred to as white-faced hornets, these insects are actually a type of yellow jacket, and not a real hornet. Their scientific name is: dolichovespula maculate; their scientific family is: vespidae which includes hornets, paper wasps, potter wasps, and yellow jackets. They usually remain relatively small, not even an inch long, and have white markings on a black body.

Habitat

Bald-faced hornets live in the wooded regions of North America. This includes the east and west coast of the United States, the Rocky Mountains, southeastern states, Alaska, and Canada. They are relatively dormant in the winter, hiding behind the bark of trees. During the spring, the queen builds her nest, lays eggs, hunts for prey, and maintains a high level of activity until the following winter.

Life Cycle

Queen bald-faced hornets spend their winters resting safely between the bark of trees from around November until April or May of the following year. When they emerge, they quickly set to work building a nest by turning that same bark into paper. They chew it until it is mushy from their saliva which contains special chemicals for this purpose. They layer the paper into a nest that contains a few cells.

After they have made a nice nest, queens proceed to lay unfertilized female eggs into the compartments they have made. These eggs then mature, hatching into larvae which the queen feeds with live bugs that she catches for their meal. When the larvae are big enough, they spin silk cocoons around themselves much like a caterpillar. By early summer, new worker hornets (all female) hatch from their cocoons and proceed to add to the nest their mother initiated.

These little ladies are hungry from all of their hard labor, and they eat a lot, which activates their reproductive systems, making it possible for them to build nests the following spring. As these worker hornets are adding onto their nest, the first queen is laying male eggs simultaneously in the cells being created. When the males (also known as drones) hatch, they mate with the younger queens. Drones do not have stingers, and their only purpose is to help future queens reproduce. By early fall, male bald-faced hornets die off. The original queen and any female workers who cannot reproduce also die.

Nests of Bald-faced Hornets

When a queen becomes active after the winter, she selects a spot for her nest. Most of the time she will build her nests in trees, and they will hang down, often protected from the foliage. Sometimes a queen will build her nest near people in the eaves of their homes, in attics, under porches, and any spot she feels is out of harm’s way.

Bald-faced hornet nests look a lot like gray clay pottery. They have unique ring like designs that form into something that looks like a child’s toy top. There is usually an opening toward the bottom of the nest, but sometimes there are more openings in the sides of it as well. Nests of hornets have been known to get bigger than basketballs.

The inside of the nest looks a lot like a honey comb, with individual cells where the queen lays her eggs. The shell of the nest is very fragile and thin, so the slightest bump can cause quite a problem when scores of angry hornets aggressively defend their home. If a hornet’s nest is located near people, it is best to destroy it early in spring before it gets too big. If that’s not possible, you should seek the help of professionals.

Many people are afraid of hornets. They don’t realize that these insects actually eat live pests like flies, moths, and other insects keeping the ecosystem balanced. Only once in a while they will feed on the nectar of flowers. Most of the time however, they prey on bugs that eat our gardens, spread germs, and bother us. The only time a person should be worried about a hornet is if he has bothered one’s nest, at which point it is well advised to run like crazy as far away as possible.