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Nature Notebook – Bald-faced Hornets

As the leaves disappear from the trees, the globular nests of bald-faced hornets will be revealed. The nests are usually high in trees or at roof peaks. Occasionally they are found on lower building structures but never lower than three feet.

The insect’s name is a bit of a misnomer. The only true hornet in North America is an introduced species, the European hornet. The bald-faced hornet is actually a type of yellowjacket wasp. Its large, stout body (3/4 inch) as well as its coloration (black and white) led early observers to declare it a hornet.

Although they can deliver a nasty sting, bald-faced hornets are not usually a problem for humans. An aggressive defense of their out-of-the-way nests is unnecessary. They feed almost entirely on other living insects, including yellowjackets and the occasional cicada or preying mantis. When their diet changes later in the season to a carbohydrate-based one, they prefer nectar and fruit rather than human sweet foods.

The abandoned nest and its dead inhabitants will provide winter snacks for enterprising birds.