The Nest Big Thing

When you see a wasp or hornet nest near your home, your first instinct may be to call in pest control to get rid of the nest, but at the Zoo we often like to leave these nests alone, as long as they aren’t a danger to the animals or visitors. Some staff even admire the nests, safely from afar, which has sparked interest in learning all about these flying insects, especially the bald-faced hornet nest at the Zoo in particular.

Bald-faced hornets, despite their name, aren’t technically a hornet, but they do have large white markings on their face.  This social wasp species is often mistaken for bees because of their ability to harvest nectar and pollen from flowering plants. The colony builds a new nest annually and the wasps are often spotted towards the end of summer when their nest is nearly completed.

The nest on Zoo grounds, which is roughly the size of a basketball, appeared to have been constructed around the end of a tree branch and the weight of the nest has slowly pulled the limb closer to the ground as it was completed. But what is this nest made of?

Bees are notorious for making their nests using beeswax, and wasps and hornets create their paper carton nests in a similar fashion – by using their spit. The hornets collect wood fibers by ingesting them from trees and even man-made wooden structures such as fences and houses. They then mix their saliva with the wood particles and make a paste to create both the egg combs on the inside of the nest as well as the outer shell.

Once the wasps are finished reproducing in the nest and the weather becomes cooler, the wasps and their queen abandon the nest to find a suitable location to hibernate, such as an attic or hollow tree. They then emerge in the spring and seek a new location to build another nest to begin reproducing again.

Once the Zoo’s hornet nest becomes vacant, the nest will either decompose on its own or with the help of hungry birds foraging for food. Zoo staff may also be able to cut down the nest and use it for educational purposes. Wouldn’t it be neat to see the nest and learn more about it on your next visit to the Zoo?