Fence Eaters

bald faced hornet and nest

Photos: Nic Petrykowski

By Nic Petrykowski, Plant Pathology major

Over the summer I spotted a hornet like insect appearing to eat the wood off the fence surrounding my vegetable garden. As the summer progressed many hornets began to eat the wood off the fence it began to look like someone had powerwashed certain sections of the fence. At this point I became intrigued about the insect and typed in the following description “Black and white hornet Ohio” into Google and found a result that showed what appeared to be the same insect. This insect is the bald-faced hornet. The bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) is not actually a true hornet but is actually a yellowjacket. The “hornet” is a large, black and white eusocial wasp that is found in North America.

It turns out that the wasps were not eating the fence; bald-faced hornets live in large colonial nests. All members of the nest are descendants of the queen. The nest is constructed from wood that is chewed up and mixed with saliva. This forms a grey papery material. The maximum occupancy of the nest is 100 to 400 wasps. The nest starts off small and gradually gets larger throughout the summer.

At this point of my research I discovered that bald-faced hornets ovipositors function as stingers. These stingers can be used to repeatedly sting potential predators without causing damage to themselves as a well. the venom is capable of stimulating pain receptors of the potential predator. It was the following detail that I found the most concerning, hornets can eject venom from their ovipositors into the eyes of humans or any potential predator that disturbs the nest. Fortunately, the nests are located high in the canopys of trees, and only attack when the nest is disturbed. This quelled my concern. I am curious where the nest is and would like to obseve if from a safe distance. There may be more than one nest judging by the amount of hornets I see on the fence every day!

About the author

Hi, I’m Nic Petrykowski and I am a Plant Pathology Major. I recently presented a research poster “Horizontal gene transfer of nitrate assimilation genes may facilitate shifts in fungal ecology” at the Richard J. and Martha D. Denman undergraduate research forum. I am currently in the process of applying to graduate school.

Sources

http://www.psu.edu/dept/nkbiology/naturetrail/speciespages/bald_faced_hornet.html

http://entomology.museums.ualberta.ca/searching_species_details.php?s=34537

http://www.pestworld.org/pest-guide/stinging-insects/bald-faced-hornets/

http://bugguide.net/node/view/2890/bgimage

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This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

 

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