Sea to Sky Stinger & Buzzer: Bald Faced Hornet
A common wasp in the Sea to Sky is actually called a hornet. The bald faced hornet, dolichovespula maculata, or white wasp are seen North American wide, and are well-known for hanging paper nests and females’ defending them with repeated stings. These flying critters will attack aggressively with little provocation. A full size nest is usually 10 inches in diameter and they are most active in July, August and September.
As mentioned, the bald-faced hornet is actually in the genus of wasps called yellowjackets, but is not commonly called wasp in North America because it lacks the yellow colouring. In the British sense, it is not a ‘true hornet’ because it is not a member of the genus Vespa (which include the Asian giant hornet, and European hornet…)
2 foot nest’s have been seen in and around Whistler decks and trees, and we have heard of some approaching 3 feet already this summer. They are more aggressive than both wasps normally called yellowjackets and members of the vespa hornet genus, and it is not considered safe to approach the nest for observation purposes.
In the Winter wasp’s, and bald faced hornets die minus the queens, who hibernate underground, under logs or in hollow trees until the spring when things heat up. Every year, these queens are re-born, fertilized, and begin a new colony and nest area. Once nesting location is found, the queen begins building it, lays a first batch of eggs, and feeds this first group of larvae.
These quick developing larvae will soon become workers and assume the chore of expanding the nest — done by chewing up wood which is mixed with a starch in their saliva. This mixture is then spread with their mandibles and legs, drying into the paper-like substance that makes up the nest.
Workers guard the nest and feed on nectar, tree sap and fruit pulp. They also capture insects and arthropods, which are chewed up to be fed to the larvae.
Like other social wasps, bald-faced hornets have a caste system:
Queen – Fertile female which starts colony and lays eggs.
Workers – Infertile females which do all work except laying eggs.
Drones – Males: have no stingers, and are born from unfertilized eggs.
New queens – Fertile females, each of which, once fertilized, may start its own nest in the spring.
Bald-faced hornets visit flowers, especially in late summer, and can be minor pollinators.
It is believed later in wasp season when fruit is falling off trees many of the wasp become intoxicated from the plants over abundance of sugar.