Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More stinging things

After getting all mushy about my (previously) sworn enemies, Yellow-jackets (Vespula pennsylvanica), I happened upon a large hanging nest near where the Yellow-jacket nest was destroyed. I'd actually been looking to see if a Hericium erinaceus, or Lion's Mane fungus had begun to fruit yet in an oak a bit off of one of the trails at Howarth Park. Instead, I found a huge wasp nest hanging in the Madrone in front of the oak. The nest was about the size of a basketball with two openings at the bottom. I watched it with binoculars for a while and was surprised to see a few stocky, black insects with white on their hind ends flying in and out. I recognized the nest structure as that of a wasp but had never seen a black and white wasp before and found myself looking forward to getting home to see if I could discover the identity of this new critter.

Bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) are in the same family as my new friends, the Yellow-jackets (Vespula pennsylvanica) but are black and white with mostly white faces, hence the common name. While Yellow-jackets are very aggressive, the Bald-faced hornet is a mellower insect and will only go after those who mess with it's nest of, oh, only about 400 to 700 hornets!

To create their amazing nests, the hornets chew up wood and mix it with starch in their saliva to make a lovely paper-like substance. The nest is incorporated into the tree branches for additional strength and substance. The same predators that search out Yellow-jacket larvae, raccoons, foxes and skunks, will raid Bald-faced hornets nests, especially when they're hung low in the tree, looking for the tasty larvae.

After doing this rather quick sketch one afternoon, I planned to return to do a more detailed sketch but, after our first winter storm, this weekend, the nest was crumpled on the ground underneath the tree. Hopefully, it was the storm and not a predator.

To learn more about Bald-faced hornets check out these web sites:

North American Insects and Spiders
Good ol' Wikipedia
Fairfax County Public Schools

1 comment:

  1. Bald faced hornets are really quite beautiful, aren't they. Too bad the nest crumpled. It would have been fun to sketch. .... but at least all that rain will bring out your mushrooms.