The Amazing Bald-faced Hornet

I came across a bald-faced hornet nest (actually a type of yellowjacket) in a tree while I was cutting brush. After most of the hornets had died from cold weather, I cut the nest open to examine the contents, and was amazed by its complex structure. There are several outer shells of paper (made from scrapings of wood), an entry hole at the bottom, and a series of shelves of combs (see my photo with a hornet sitting on the comb which is made up of hexagonal cells). There are hundreds of infertile female workers and a fertilized queen in the hive, and they defend the nest very vigorously! They are mainly predatory and feed primarily on insects.

This represents a typical Hymenopteran caste system made up mostly of infertile female workers, where the males appear only at the end of the seasonal cycle to mate with new queens which then over-winter to restart the entire life cycle the next season. So this life cycle relegates the males to the most basic aspect of pure reproduction- a bag of sperm !

The alternation of extreme activity during the Summer, with the eventual death every year of the entire hive, except for the newly fertilized recently hatched queens is incredible. The lives of these tiny automatons seems so strange to us, yet they are quite successful. The hexagonal geometry of the comb is interesting in its simplicity and efficiency. How remarkable are the lives of these highly social, but behaviorally rigid insects !

Bill Dunson

Galax, VA & Englewood, FL