The bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata), also known as the white-faced hornet, is a large social wasp that lives in a colony. It is not a true hornet, rather is more like wasps.
It is distinguished by a black body and ivory-white markings on its face, thorax, legs and abdomen. Adults average 15-20mm in length, making them larger than yellow jackets.
They are most active during the day consuming sugary liquids like nectar or juices. Worker bald-faced hornets bring back insects or carrion for the larvae in their nest. Bald-faced hornets have a positive effect on our environment. They help pollinate flowers while in pursuit of nectar, and they help decrease populations of nuisance insects.
They are widespread throughout North America, with aerial nests built of paper, which hang from trees, buildings, bushes, shrubs and overhangs. These nests are often away from people. By the end of the summer these nests can be very large, similar in size for a basketball, and containing up to 700 workers.
Sometimes, white-faced hornet nests are built on homes, garages or sheds that are near humans. In these cases, they become a serious concern due to their very aggressive nature. Like yellow jackets, they will fiercely defend their nest, and can sting more than once. They will also chase their victim long distances to sting them.
A bald-faced hornet colony begins in the spring. A fertilized female awakes from overwintering, and will begin to construct the nest she will reign over. The paper-like nests are made from a paste she makes by chewing cellulose from rotted or weathered wood. Nests can survive winters; however, they are not re-used by a queen or colony. With every spring, there are new queen bald-faced hornets, and new nests. She lays a single egg inside each cell as she constructs her new nest. These eggs will hatch into larvae and feed on nectar and other insects provided by the queen until they mature into infertile female workers. They help by expanding the nest, finding food and caring for the queen and her young hornets.
Male bald-faced hornets are hatched in late summer, along with fertile females. Post mating, fertilized females seek protective shelter to overwinter (hibernate) until the spring, when they will become the next generation of queens. All other bald-face hornets die once winter sets in.
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