When my nephew was young and lived on a dairy farm, he demonstrated an unsurpassed understanding of his Manhattan-bound aunt. One birthday, he sent a unique present that won my heart. Inside the box was a lovely fragment of grey and beige scalloped paper, as fine as hand-made Japanese tissue. But no hand had made it. It was manufactured by Bald Faced Hornets (Dolichovespula maculata). It was a bit of their nest.
Last week at Angle Fly, I happened upon a huge nest hanging from a White Pine (Pinus strobus) that reminded me of that long-ago gift. The large Bald Faced Hornets, ceaselessly flying in and out of the entrance near the bottom of the nest, are named for the striking ivory and black patterns on their face and bodies. I knew enough to pay the hornets the respect they deserved and they in turn ignored me. Had I been unwise enough to disturb their nest, I could have expected hundreds of smoky-winged defenders to swarm after me, each capable of stinging multiple times.
The female workers live but a year. The pregnant queen abandons the nest, wintering over in a protected spot. In the spring, workers are born, and they quickly begin to build a new nest. They scrape bits of wood, combining it with their saliva as they chew and then spread the mass into the graceful arcs.