Protect Your Home or Business From Bald-faced Hornets
The bald-faced hornet, Dolichovespula maculata, lives in North America and is a common insect throughout New England including states like Massachusetts. A member of the wasp family, the baldfaced hornet can produce a painful sting and will not leave the stinger in the skin (retained by insect).
Misnamed as a hornet, the bald-faced hornet is actually classified under the Dolichovespula genus, which makes it a yellow jacket. Though beneficial for killing many other flying pests in nature, bald-faced hornets can be threats to people if their nests are near areas of human activity.
Appearance & Identification
What Does a Bald-Faced Hornet Look Like?
A large flying insect, the bald-faced hornet has a stout body that measures 3/4 of an inch long. Almost entirely black, the bald-faced hornet has distinct ivory-white markings on the front of the head and the tip of the abdomen.
The head has a pair of antennae and a set of strong mandibles, which the insect uses for constructing the nest. The bald-faced hornet has transparent fore- and hindwings.
Bald-faced hornets are social insects that live in aerial nests, which are usually found hanging in trees, hidden in bushes, and stuck to exteriors of buildings. Football-shaped and about two feet long, a bald-faced hornet nest is made from chewed wood, which gives it a papery, grayish-brown appearance.
The insect prefers to reside in meadows, forests, and parks and keeps its nest high in trees. The baldfaced hornet is less aggressive than other members of the wasp family. Living primarily on an insect diet (as larva), the bald-faced hornet is not attracted to food at outdoor events and is not considered a picnic pest.
What Does a Baldfaced Hornet Eat?
In spring and summer, bald-faced hornet larvae feed on live insects like flies, caterpillars, and other yellow jackets fed to them by adults. Because of its propensity to eat other insects, the bald-faced hornet is helpful in keeping other pest populations down.
Adult bald-faced hornets usually feed on nectar from plants and overripe fruit. While seeking out nectar from plants, baldfaced hornets play an important role in plant pollination.
In the spring, a bald-faced hornet queen (overwintering stage) begins crafting a nest by chewing woody materials from trees and shrubs and using her sticky saliva to make a pulpy building material. The nest begins with a few cells, which serve as rooms for larvae to develop, and the queen lays an egg in each chamber.
When larvae hatch, the queen feeds her young chewed up insects during development. After about a month, the initial larvae emerge as adult female workers. The queen continues to lay eggs, while the infertile workers take over all other jobs, including building more cells, collecting food, feeding larvae, and defending the nest.
Bald-faced hornet colonies/nests usually grow to about 400 workers by summer. In early fall, the queen lays eggs that hatch into reproductively capable males and new queens. After these insects mate, fertilized queens find protected places to overwinter, such as hollow trees, rock piles, and attics.
The workers and original queen die off after the first hard frost, and the nest decomposes during the winter. Once spring arrives, the new queens emerge from hiding and begin building new nests.
Problems Caused by Baldfaced Hornets
Bald-faced hornets may be troublesome if their nests are close to human activity. Bumping into or coming within a few feet of the nest can cause the defensive insect to attack.
Equipped with a smooth stinger, the baldfaced hornet can sting multiple times and inject trace amounts of venom into the skin. Certain individuals may experience allergic reactions like rashes and inflamed patches of skin. Stings can be life threatening to some, as severely allergic individuals may go into anaphylactic shock.
Signs of Infestation
Seeing a nest or individuals flying in close proximity to the home is the primary sign of a nearby bald-faced hornet nest. Nests are typically hidden by the greenery of trees or bushes and are usually only noticeable in the fall.
Individuals should check bushes and trees for nests before doing any landscaping to avoid unexpected attack. Nests attached to the home are usually found under eaves.
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Nest removal is essential in eliminating bald-faced hornet threats. Inexperienced individuals are not advised to go near nests, as it can agitate the stinging insects. Pest control professionals should be called to effectively eliminate bald-faced hornets and take care of nest removal.