A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Having Fun with a Hornets’ Nest!

Daniel Trudeau is a Wave Hill Environmental Educator.

During a recent trip to P.S. 340 in the Bronx, the Education staff at Wave Hill brought out an impressive natural artifact, much to the surprise and—in some cases—delight of the school’s 3rd grade classes.

In mid-November, Assistant Director of Horticulture Brian McGowan spotted a large hornets’ nest in one of the magnolia trees on the Wave Hill grounds, and was kind enough to extract it and pass it along to the Education Department. The nest, a papery, basketball-sized globe marked with colorful bands and textured swirls, was likely built by a colony of bald-faced hornets (also known as white-faced hornets).

The students at P.S. 340 were intrigued by the magnolia buds popping out of the sides of the nest—exposed tips of the branches that the hornets use as a load-bearing framework. And while some students were initially leery, nearly all were excited to touch and observe the structure up close. Bald-faced hornets can have a bad reputation because of their resemblance to more aggressive yellow jackets. But, unlike the ground-dwelling yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets nest in trees and are unlikely to harass people for food or to sting unless provoked.

Wasps and hornets build the intricate combs and delicates sheaths of their nests out of a paste made from wood fibers and saliva. In cold-weather climates, colonies last for just one year, as only fertilized females (queens) survive the winter to lay eggs and build anew. As a result, the nest that Brian pulled from the magnolia was likely humming with activity a few months ago, but has gone silent with the onset of chillier temperatures.

The colony’s troops of workers and drones have died off. But somewhere on the Wave Hill grounds, next year’s potential queens are hibernating before taking on the sizable job of rebuilding the nest and repopulating the colony come spring.

Source: West Virginia University Extension Service http://www.wvu.edu/~exten/infores/pubs/pest/hpm7002.pdf

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