The Bald-Faced Hornet, scientifically known as Dolichovespula maculata, is a species of wasp that is native to North America. Although they are called ‘hornets,’ these insects are technically a type of yellowjacket. They are noted for their distinctive white and black coloring and their large, spherical nests, which they commonly build in trees and shrubs, but can also be found under roof overhangs, in attics, or on the side of buildings.
- Size and Appearance: Bald-faced hornets are relatively large insects, with workers typically measuring 12-15mm in length and queens growing up to 20mm. Their bodies are predominantly black, with a white or ‘bald-faced’ head, which is the primary feature distinguishing them from other yellowjackets. Their bodies are segmented, with six legs and a characteristic thin waist separating the thorax and abdomen. They have two pairs of wings, with the larger pair in front.
- Nest: Bald-faced hornet nests are quite distinctive. They are large, globular structures that can reach up to 14 inches in diameter and more than 24 inches in length. The nests are usually built in elevated locations, including trees, shrubs, and man-made structures. They’re composed of chewed wood pulp, which gives them a grey, paper-like appearance.
The Bald-faced Hornet lifecycle begins when a fertilized queen emerges from winter hibernation in spring and finds a suitable location to build a new nest. She lays her first batch of eggs, which develop into workers that take over the tasks of nest building, foraging for food, and caring for the next generation of larvae.
In late summer, the queen produces a batch of fertile males and females. These leave the nest, mate, and the females find safe locations to hibernate through the winter, becoming the next year’s queens. The original nest is abandoned and will not be reused.
Behavior and Habitat
Bald-faced hornets are known for their aggressive behavior when they perceive their nest is threatened. Their sting is particularly painful and, unlike bees, they can sting multiple times.
They prefer wooded habitats where they have plenty of resources for nest building and food. However, they can also be found in urban and suburban settings. Their diet primarily consists of other insects, providing a natural form of pest control.
Removing a Bald-faced Hornet nest can be dangerous due to its aggressive nature. Professional wasp control is often recommended. However, if you decide to do it yourself, ensure you take the following precautions:
- Proper Timing: It’s best to target the nest early in the morning or late at night when hornets are less active.
- Protective Clothing: Wear thick clothing, gloves, and a bee veil to protect yourself from stings.
- Insecticide: Use a wasp and hornet insecticide spray. Spray directly at the nest’s opening.
- Aftercare: Monitor the nest for several days to ensure all hornets are eliminated before removing the nest.
While Bald-faced Hornets pose a risk if their nest is disturbed due to their aggressive nature and painful sting, they are not typically dangerous if left alone. However, individuals with allergies to wasp stings should exercise caution.
Unlike honey bees, Bald-faced Hornets do not die after stinging. They can sting multiple times if they feel threatened.
Maintaining your property can help deter Bald-faced Hornets. Regularly check for and remove early-stage nests in the spring, keep garbage cans sealed, and trim back trees and shrubs that could provide nesting sites. If a nest is established, contact a pest control professional for safe removal.