Around the world, and even within the US, there are many species of hornets and wasps. In this lesson, you will learn about one of these species: the bald-faced hornet.
Types of Hornets
Think about when you’re walking outside, whether it’s in the city, a park, or somewhere else. How often do you see bees, hornets, or wasps? Chances are, even if you haven’t noticed it before, you’ve seen a lot of them. Even if we only look at hornets or wasps, there are a significant number of different species, and each of them is somewhat unique. One species you might see is the bald-faced hornet. It is found throughout most of the continental US, Alaska, and Canada.
The bald-faced hornet gets its name from the white markings on its face. It also has white markings throughout the rest of its body. Like other hornets and wasps, it is hairless, so the name ‘bald-faced’ is actually accurate!
Bald-faced hornets are fairly large. They range from about half an inch, up to almost a full inch in length. Compare this to the average yellow jacket, which usually does not grow more than half an inch long. There are hornets that can be much larger, but not in the United States or Canada.
Like many wasps and hornets, bald-faced hornets build their nests above ground. You might see them in trees, bushes, or under the eaves of buildings. They build in protected areas that are at least three feet up.
The life cycle of the bald-faced hornet begins in the spring. Fertilized queens hibernate during the winter, but once it warms up, they become active again. At that point, they choose a sheltered area and begin building their nest. They start with a small nest containing a few brood cells, which are small hollowed-out areas of the nest. It is in these cells that the queen lays her eggs.
The eggs hatch into larvae, the immature stage resembling a small worm or grub. The queen feeds and cares for the larvae of this first set of hornets. The larvae then cocoon themselves into a cell of the nest, becoming pupae. Just like butterflies, the pupae grow and eventually emerge as adult hornets. The whole process takes a few weeks at most. The hornet life cycle from beginning to end looks like this:
Once the first group is fully grown, they take over the duties of building the nest, collecting food, and raising the broods of hornets from the eggs that the queen lays. By the time winter comes back around, the nest can contain up to 400 individuals.
The bald-faced hornet is an interesting creature. Despite its name, it is actually a type of yellow jacket. Like many yellow jackets, they are moderately aggressive and very protective of their nests. They will attack people or animals that come within three feet of it.
These nests are built from scratch every year by the new queen. When winter comes, all of the male workers, as well as the old queen, die. Only the young, fertilized queens are able to survive the winter by hibernating. Once spring comes and they are active again, they make material to build the nest by chewing up old wood and mixing it with their saliva. This forms a thick paste. A queen then uses this paste to build the nest, and when it dries it is very paper-like.
Bald-faced hornets, despite their name, are actually a species of yellow jacket. They are called ‘bald-faced’ because of the white markings on their head. They also have white markings throughout the rest of their body. Queens of this species hibernate during the winter, and in the spring they build small nests using chewed up wood and saliva. The queen then cares for the first set of new hornets, and once these become adults they take over the tasks of nest building, food collection, and caring for the eggs the queen lays. These eggs are laid in brood cells.
The bald-faced hornet starts as an egg, which hatches into larvae. Then the larvae cocoon themselves in a cell of the nest, becoming a pupae. They later emerge as a fully grown adult hornet. The nests, and this cycle, are started new again every year because the young queens are the only ones who survive the winter. The old queen and the male workers die.