Preserving and Displaying a Hornet s Nest, Horticulture and Home Pest News

Preserving and Displaying a Hornet’s Nest

Overview of preserving and displaying a hornet’s nests

The Baldfaced Hornet is a social wasp found in the familiar large, gray, paper nests attached to a tree branch, shrub, utility pole or house. The paper-like nests are made of chewed wood fiber mixed with saliva. Hornet nests are frequently displayed in nature centers, schools, and natural history museums. They can also be displayed in the home as a conversation piece! Below are answers to the most common questions about displaying a hornets nest.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is the nest collected?

The easiest method of collecting a nest is to wait until after the hornets have abandoned the nest in the fall (after the first hard freeze or by late October). Hornet nests are annual; they last one summer and all occupants freeze or die of old age in the fall. Collect the nest as soon as possible because exposed, unprotected nests are subject to destruction by wildlife and weather. Collecting a nest in summer requires a degree of boldness. During the coolest part of the night and with the least disturbance possible, rapidly slip a large plastic bag over the nest. Close the bag around the limb above the nest. Tie the bag shut and cut the limb from the tree. Kill the hornets by placing the entire bag in a freezer overnight.

Will I get stung from hornets that emerge from a collected nest?

There will be few, if any hornets in a nest collected in late fall. If you feel the need to be extra-cautious, leave the nest in a garage or porch where it will be protected from the weather until mid-winter. Then bring the nest indoors.

Will the nest smell bad?

The carcasses of hornets and larvae that remain in a collected nest may produce a mild odor before they completely dry up. If this is unacceptable, leave the nest in a protected outdoor location as mentioned above.

Does the nest need to be treated with varnish to preserve it?

No. It is not necessary to treat the collected nest in any way. The nest will last almost indefinitely if it is suspended in a dry location where it will not be damaged by handling or vibration.

Will new hornets emerge from eggs that hatch after the nest is hung indoors?

No. Hornet eggs laid inside the nest by the queen hatch into grublike larvae that must be fed and cared for by the workers. If any eggs hatched indoors the tiny larvae would perish.

Green Promise Grows

Grow Where You Are Planted.

Preserving a Hornets Nest

Before I became a beekeeper I never paid too much attention to wasps and hornets. But then I saw the body of bald-faced hornet hanging out of one of my beehives. The honeybees had attacked and decapitated her and were in the process of pushing the body out of the hive. I did some research and learned about hornets’ unique life cycles and behaviors. Even though they have spelled disaster for more than one of my beehives, they quickly gained my respect. For one thing, they build amazingly beautiful homes. You have probably seen them hanging in the woods, or near your home though I hope not!

A Collected Hornets Nest, look at those swirls and rings of different colored paper!

Bald-faced hornets (aka: bull wasps or blackjackets) are a species that is prolific in my area and across North America. They aren’t hornets at all, but a type of large wasp. They are big, black in color, and have dabs of white on their abdomens and heads. They build large, paper nests typically high in trees or on structures. Although these nests resemble the “beehives” from Winnie The Pooh, you won’t find any honey in them. While they do collect some sugars from fruit and flowers for feeding their babies, they are mainly carnivorous and can be found eating meat or other insects. Their queen emerges from her burrow underground in the spring and begins constructing a small nest and laying eggs to build up her colony. Soon her offspring will help her build the nest, and she will retreat to lay eggs for the entirety of the season. In the fall, the queen will burrow underground or under a log, leaving the rest of her brood to freeze and die. The queen will start constructing a new nest in the spring; this leaves the previous nest vacant and available for collecting.

A Hornets Nest Hanging 30 Feet Above Ground. Sometimes they can be dangerous to collect…

The best time to collect a nest is after several hard frosts — this ensures that the inhabitants are dead and eliminates the possibility of getting stung. In most instances, hornets nests are located very high in trees. Please take extreme care and caution when collecting a hornets nest. You will most likely need to cut some branches around the nest to get it out. We like to leave the sticks and branches intact at a length because we like the way it looks.

After you have successfully collected your hornets nest, it’s a good idea to place it in the freezer for a week or two, especially if you are concerned about remaining, living hornets. Your nest may have a slightly foul scent to it; this is the result of remaining larvae and eggs rotting. If this is the case, leave it sitting in the garage or barn for a couple of weeks. We have done this a few times and have never experienced this … however, we do have very cold winters in our area.

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The paper nest will last indefinitely in its natural state, though you can spray it with a coat or two of shellac if you wish. Hang in the desired location with clear fishing line, and you will have a conversation starter for years to come!

How to Get Rid of Hornets from a House, the Ground, or a Tree

Want to get rid of hornets from your house?

By way of introduction, here is a hornet-related anecdote: There was once a female septuagenarian who lived in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. This woman owned a colonial-style home with a large, covered front porch. On this porch was a very active hornet’s nest perched on one of the inside eaves. One summer’s day, a boy of eleven, hoping to make a little extra money cutting lawns, knocked on this elderly lady’s door and asked if she needed her grass cutting.

She did not, as it turned out, though there was the matter of the hornet’s nest on the porch, which she was willing to pay handsomely ($20… a full Andrew Jackson!) to have removed. The boy confessed his reticence. He had no experience with removing hornet’s nests and was pretty terrified of being stung.

The old woman assured him that his fears were unfounded because she knew some folk hoodoo that would repel the hornets. All the boy had to do, according to the matriarch, was to rub his hands in his armpits and then smear the sweat over his exposed skin. If the boy did this, he could not be stung. Since he was only a naive young boy, and she seemed a sweet grandmotherly type, he took her at her word and promptly followed her advice.

He coated his entire body with the stench of his own armpit (quite potent, as it was summer after all, and the normal school night shower requirements had become more relaxed), and then approached the buzzing nest with trembling arms extended. For her part, the elderly woman immediately sought the protection of her screen door. Later, as he ran screaming down the street, stinging insects attacking his back, neck, legs, and – ironically – his right armpit, the young boy could hear the witch cackling from behind her screen door. It was a sound the boy would never forget.

Needless to say, if you have discovered a hornet’s nest on your property, the above-cited method is not the safest way to remove the potential danger. The remainder of this article will focus on differentiating hornets from other insects, as well as highlighting proven techniques that will allow you to prevent these pesky fear-mongers from nesting near your home and, if necessary, remove this painful pest from your property with minimal risk.

What is a Hornet?

For starters, hornets are not just a mascot for the NBA team based in Charlotte, North Carolina; they are social creatures belonging to the Hymenoptera class that also includes bees, wasps, and ants. They belong to the subspecies of Vespinae and are members of the Genus Vespa, which includes all hornets and are a close cousin of the dreaded Yellow Jacket, a common and aggressive wasp species.

There are about 20 species of hornets in the world and their distribution is widespread. They live in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. The European Hornet is an introduced species to North America. Hornets are active from spring to fall; the queen will pick a site for the nest in May and all members of the colony, except the queen herself, will be dead by October.

Though not as aggressive as their aforementioned cousin – the Yellow Jacket – hornets are known to be territorial and will attack in swarms, if they feel that their nest is under threat.

Likewise, their stings have the same score on the Schmidt Pain Index as Yellow Jackets, and has a bite described as, “Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.”

As an added bonus, hornets are able to one-up bees yet again, since a single hornet is capable of stinging an offender multiple times. Like wasps and bees, hornets release attack pheromones when they feel threatened. This is a pheromone that other hornets from the hive pick up on and are drawn to. This is why bees, wasps, and hornets often seem to attack in swarms, stinging again and again.

Hornet stings are more painful than a bee’s sting as they have a higher level of toxins in their venom. Hornets can sting multiple times as they have a smooth stinger that does not remain embedded in the skin of their perceived attacker. In fact, one hornet species, the Vespa Luctuosa, which is found in the Philippines, has one of the highest toxicities of any known insect.

Unless you are a masochist, the chances are that this experience is something you would like to avoid. You can prevent this by knowing how to spot a hornet’s nest and determine whether it’s proximity to human habitation poses a risk.

The Hornet’s Nest

Hornet’s nests typically look like some unholy mutation of a beehive and a wasp’s nest, meaning that they have a paper-like consistency derived from their being constructed of saliva and wood pulp, but are typically fully enclosed with only a small “door” that allows the insects to come and go as they please, and can usually be found in trees, rafters, or under eaves – the moral being that hornets like concealment and cover.

Hornet’s nests are an extremely interesting structure. The queen, which is a fertilized female from the previous year, selects a safe and sheltered location for the nest. Dead hollow trees should always be removed to prevent hornet’s nests from forming. Unfortunately, a sheltered site may also be behind your brick or in your hot tub siding. She then makes combs out of chewed up bark and saliva, which is why hornet’s nests have a papery look to them. She then lays an egg in each cell.

Once these babies grow into adults, they become workers and take over nest-building duties, as well as the child-minding duties, which is why hornet’s nests can get so huge. All worker hornets are female. There are only a few males in a typical hornet colony. They do not have stingers and their only real role is to mate with the queen so she is fertile the following year. Males will typically die shortly after they have mated. In a hornet colony, only the queen survives the winter.

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Unlike bees, hornets do not make honey or pollinate plants, but rather act as predators feeding on other insects, which can be beneficial.

Types of Hornets

European hornets

Worldwide, there are 20 known species of hornet. In North America, however, there is only one true hornet, the introduced European Hornet, sometimes called the Giant Hornet. These carnivores are aggressive about their nest and have the potential to be aggressive in attaining food.

European Hornets are larger than a wasp and are typically brown and yellow instead of black and yellow. Their faces and wings have a brownish-red tint to them. Only females in this species have the ability to sting.

Like all other species of hornets, the queen picks the location of the nest and she starts building the hive herself. The task of nest building is then passed onto to the workers. The nest site is, as is typical with most hornet species, aerial to protect the young from ground-dwelling predators.

European Hornets are elitists and the workers will dispose of any eggs that are laid that do not come from the queen. In Germany, European Hornets enjoy the status of a protected species. It is illegal to destroy a hornet’s nest and is punishable by a fine of 50,000 Euros!

Japanese Giant hornet

Other interesting species of wasps include the Japanese Giant Hornet. These guys are really big with the average adult growing up to 4.5 cm. Luckily for us here, the Japanese Giant Wasp lives only in rural areas in Japan.

The Japanese Giant Hornet has extremely toxic venom and is known to be aggressive, often swarming and stinging multiple times. More than 30 stings are considered a medical emergency at their venom is potent and they inject a large amount of it with each sting. A Japanese Giant Hornet Sting is said to feel like, “ a hot nail being driven through your leg ”.

In their native country, Japanese Giant Hornets are thought of as pests not only because of their aggressive behavior but also because they eat the already threatened honeybees. Japanese Giant Hornets leave attack pheromones on European Honey Bee’s nests, which attract their hive mates, and a swarm of large, highly-toxic hornets can quickly decimate a beehive.

Oriental hornet

The Oriental Hornet is another notable hornet species. It can be found in South West Asia, Africa and has been introduced to Mexico. It is the only hornet species that is consistently found in desert-like climates.

Oriental Hornets uniquely nest underground. The Oriental Hornet is a solid orange-brown color with a single thick yellow stripe on its back.

The Oriental Hornet can sting if attacked, but can also bite with its robust jaw.

Like the Japanese Giant Hornet, the Oriental Hornet is considered a pest because it preys on threatened honeybees. In addition, the Oriental Hornet is a scavenger and can transmit disease from one beehive to the next. They also can transmit disease from infected to healthy plants.

White-Faced Hornets

White-Faced Hornets are also known as Bald-Faced Hornets or scientifically as Dolichovespula maculate. Despite their name, White-Faced Hornets are, in fact, a type of wasp. They are just called hornets because their nests look like a hornet’s nest and they prefer to build it up high like other hornet species. They make up some of the largest colonies in their genus, with hives including 400 to 700 insects.

They are common all over North America, including Canada. However, they are most frequent in the southern parts of the United States. They are known to eat insects and spiders, as well as fruit pulp, and meat, meaning they are often attracted to human habitations.

They defend their nests by stinging multiple times and can also “shoot” their venom, temporarily blinding nest intruders. So, if you are trying to get rid of a White-Faced Hornet’s nest, be sure to stay far away! Only workers and the queen have stingers. White-Faced Hornets are easy to differentiate from other wasp families, as they are white and black as opposed to the more common bright yellow and black.

Breaking Out the Hives

Because of its higher toxicity, hornet stings are extremely dangerous for people who are allergic to the stings. If you are allergic to bee stings, we recommend that you do not attempt to remove a hornet’s nest yourself. This could be extremely dangerous and we advise that you contact an exterminator instead. In North America, hornet stings are painful, but usually only lethal in cases of allergic reaction. Other species of hornets, especially in Asia, can be lethal to people and even larger animals. The Japanese Giant Hornet, for instance, is responsible for multiple human deaths each year and has been nicknamed the Yak-Killer Hornet due to the toxicity of its venom.

The Best Protection is Prevention

Clean Up After Yourself

In later life stages, hornets become scavengers. Therefore, it is important to keep food scraps away from your home if you want to prevent or discourage hornets from nesting near your house. Keep compost and garbage well contained and sealed away. In the later months of summer, avoid eating outside and feed any pets indoors. Do not allow dogs to have treats such as rawhide bones or pigs ears outdoors. Also, be wary of bird feeders in the dog days of summer.

Illusion is Everything

Although they are aggressive, hornets prefer to avoid conflicts with other colonies. You can make mock nests during nesting season to deter a future queen from building her nest near your home.

Keep your Property Tidy

You should always make sure that you aren’t accidentally inviting hornets to nest in your home. Replace loose shingles on your roof and seal up holes in the exterior of your house to prevent them from getting in. If you have a hot tub, seal the siding as the warmth and darkness make the interior wall of a hot tub an ideal nesting place. Also, remove and dispose of any dead trees on your property before nesting season.

Getting Rid of Hornets

As is the case with any pest control problem, the safest and most effective way to rid your property of an infestation is to consult a professional. If, for financial or other reason this is not possible, here are a few tips that should help you accomplish this safely:

Protect Yourself:

Wear layers of clothing, rubber gloves, boots, and some type of veil or face shield. Tape up sleeve and collar openings so that you don’t end up with a “friend” inside your clothing. The thicker the material, the better. If you can get your hands on a beekeeper’s suit, do it.

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Attack at Night:

Like most of us, hornets like to spend their evenings with the family and unwinding on the sofa. Once the sun sets, it is a pretty safe bet that you will have all the hornets concentrated in that one area. They are also less active at night so the attack will surprise them and it will take them longer to get going.

Use a Flashlight:

Makes sense, right? After all, it’s nighttime, and you have to see what you’re doing… but everyone knows how insects react to a light in the darkness. In order not to attract unwanted attention from your would-be prey, wrap the end of your flashlight in red cellophane.

The Spray Method:

The most important piece of advice that can be given here is to choose a sprayer capable of propelling a stream several feet, because you will want to be as far removed from the nest as possible while spraying. Also, you are going to need to spray a constant, steady stream inside the Ritz cracker-sized opening.

This is the only way in, and the only way out – meaning that, if the hornets want to counter-attack, they’ll have to take a blast of pesticide to the face in order to do so. Spray until you can’t spray anymore. Make sure that you do not simply spray the outside of the nest as this will prove an ineffective killing method and the angry hornets are more likely to sting you or your family over the days that follow.

The Natural Way:

For those who aren’t fond of pesticides, there is a more natural way of getting rid of hornets. All you need is a bucket, water, vinegar, sugar, and a little dish soap. Mix these ingredients together in the bucket in roughly equal portions, and set it under the nest. Soon, the hornets should begin drowning themselves in your concoction. Change out as necessary.

Sometimes Hornets Nearby is No Cause for Worry

It is important to remember that hornets are valuable members of our ecosystem. Just because you can see a hornet’s nest, it does not mean that it represents a threat. Since hornets do prey upon other pesky insects such as deer flies and horseflies, they help to bring balance to the ecosystem on a micro level, and, therefore, should not simply be removed to be removed.

Only exterminate the hornets if they are located in a high traffic area where they present a danger to people. If it is necessary to remove a nest from your property, take each and every precaution outlined above in order to ensure your safety and, as always, consult a professional if at all possible.

Hornet’s nests safe to remove in winter

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Question: While out shoveling, I noticed a huge wasp nest in my tree. Are there wasps still living in there or is now a good time to remove it?

Answer: Now that all the leaves are off the trees, nests that have been the home of hornets and wasps are more noticeable. These nests were the home of live colonies with a worker population at its peak of 100 to 400 by the end of summer. These colonies last only a year and do not return to their nest the following year.

Each nest is built from scratch and consists of a paperlike substance that is made from chewed wood fibers mixed with saliva. The nest has three to four tiers of combs within a thick multilayered outer shell. There is a single opening at the bottom to allow the hornets to fly in and out. The nests are usually located in wooded areas, attached to a branch, but sometimes can be seen on siding, utility poles and shrubs.

Nests are helpful when trying to identify the type of social wasp. From your description, the nest is probably a bald-faced hornet nest, which are very common in our area. The bald-faced hornet’s nest is usually very large, pear-shaped with a round entrance hole at the bottom.

Bald-faced hornets are considered beneficial as they reduce unwanted insects including other common yellow jackets.

If a nest is noticed during warm weather and not located within 10 feet of the house, they can be ignored. If someone has a known allergy to wasps, the nests should be removed by a professional pest management person. If a person is willing to try to remove a nest, a wasp and hornet insecticide should be sprayed directly into the nest opening at night. Holding the nozzle against the opening will prevent any wasps from escaping. Protective garments and goggles are recommended.

However, at this time of year, the nests are empty and pose no threat. In the fall, males and new queens are produced, which then leave the nest and mate, and the fertilized queen hibernates underground. The remaining workers, the old queen and the males die of old age or freezing temperatures.

It is important to wait until at least two hard frosts before dealing with the nest. Individuals bring in these nests and use them for a science project or decoration. If brought in too early, the nests may not have been completely cleaned out and will start to decay and smell.

Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: [email protected]

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