Who are you, mate?
What are you up to?
I found a hornet nest this morning, in an old woodpecker’s oak tree hole. Hornets are beneficial insects.
The main difference between wasps and hornets is their size. Hornets are larger than wasps, which is one of the main reasons why they scare some people; but hornets are really quite docile, shy creatures. Another difference is the colour. Wasps which are usually yellow and black, hornets are more orangey-red, although this does vary with each species. I think the face of a hornet is more scary than the smaller wasp, although the hornet is a wasp too.
The queen is the only member of the hornet colony that reproduces. Most hornets in the colony are workers. The worker hornets make the nest (after it has been started by the queen and the workers have developed from the eggs that she laid). Workers also feed the young and protect the colony from danger. The males mate with new queens and die soon afterwards. There are only a few males in a colony.
This is how a hornet nest occurs: The European hornet queen makes the first cells of the nest and lays a fertilized egg in each one. Around five to eight days later, the eggs hatch into larvae or grubs.
The queen feeds the larvae a paste made of her saliva and insects that she has chewed. She continues to make new cells and to lay eggs.
At about two weeks of age, each larva makes a silk cap to fit over the top of its cell. Inside the sealed cell the larva turns into a pupa.
Inside the pupa, the young hornet changes into an adult worker bee. The worker then emerges from its cell and takes over the jobs of building the nest and feeding the larvae.
The larvae release a sweet secretion to feed the workers. The secretion contains amino acids and sugars. It provides the workers with energy and encourages them to keep feeding the grubs.
Once enough workers have emerged from the pupae, the queen’s sole job is to lay eggs.
European hornets fly during the night as well as during the day to collect food.
Increasingly, people agree that bees are good for us and the environment and are indeed essential to our survival, but what about wasps and hornets, aren’t these useful too?
Hornets are large wasps and, like bees, wasps pollinate plants and flowers as they feed on nectar. If we were to eradicate wasps it would cause more problems than it would solve. So, wasps do serve a useful purpose and despite being an irritation at certain times of the year, they are an essential and beneficial insect.
Wasps are predatory insects and large numbers of workers are involved in providing protein for developing larvae in the nest over the summer. Insects are killed and collected by adult wasps and chewed up into small food packages. These food parcels are fed to young wasp larvae in the nest, which turn the prey exoskeletons (chitin) into a sugary droplets to feed back to the adult wasps. Towards the end of August, with no larvae to feed and raise, all the adult wasps must find other sources of sugar to sustain themselves, and this is why they are attracted to sugar-rich foods and drinks at our BBQs, picnic tables, and in our homes.
I’m glad that Sir David Attenborough is not responsible for the “fake news” advising us to leave containers of sugary water out to feed tired bees in hot weather. Bees are more than capable of looking after their own requirements. We need to improve the prospects for invertebrates in general by planting more pollen and nectar rich plants.
A hornet nest will contain around 300 individuals.
It has been estimated that social wasps kill around 14 million kilograms of insect prey in the UK each summer. A world without wasps would be a world with a very much larger number of insect in our homes, gardens, and on our crops.
It’s important to acknowledge that insects are generally having a hard time; changing environments, changing climate, habitat loss and the use of insecticides are all taking their toll on these vital creatures.
All quiet at the hornets’ nest this morning; Spike was indifferent to it.
My camera was ready to shoot, so I couldn’t pass without trying to get a hornet image.
When I tap the tree trunk with my fingernail, a hornet zips from the nest entrance and banks away before flying off down the bank. About ten seconds later the hornet returns to the nest. So I watched the hornet fly down the bank, put the camera to my eye, and make myself comfortable to shoot the hornet landing back at the entrance.
The returning hornet landed on my hand! If I wasn’t looking through the viewfinder, I’m sure I would have panicked at this point – jumping up and down and flapping my arms, I expect. I couldn’t see the hornet, but I could feel it moving over my fingers. Then I think it crawled on to my camera before flying to the entrance. When the hornet landed I pressed the shutter, and this is its image. I think this might be evidence that hornets are not out to get us, and that they won’t sting unless we are perceived as being a danger to the nest, or they sense panic – don’t take my word for it, though.
HORNET RETURNING TO THE NEST.
HORNETS’ NEST AND ITS TWO ENTRANCES.
The hornet saga continues: Spike was sat to attention a good three metres away from the hornets’ nest tree when I arrived there this morning. He was looking up at the nest entrances and making soft woofing noises. There was a lot of activity. Hornets were flying in and out of the nest, and some where climbing down the tree trunk carrying grubs, which they dropped at the base of the tree.
Why I am compelled to push my camera lens into melees such as these and begin clicking and flashing away at hornets that are obviously agitated? I think I feel that as long as my eye is behind the view finder I will be safe and that the hornets won’t realise I am there, but realise they did. They forced me to put quite a bit of distance between us.
Spike must have realised something was going on at the nest last night, because he has never scrabbled away so enthusiastically at a tree trunk before. Why did he sit well away from the nest this morning? I reckon that Spike sensed the hornet attack pheromones. Maybe a predator entered the nest last night, and this morning the hornets were removing dead bodies and carrying out repair.
It’s just this kind of mystery that makes the outdoors so interesting
HORNET DUMPING HORNET GRUBS.
Passing the hornets’ nest this evening, I shone my torch in both entrances; there wasn’t movement in either. I suspected, though, that there might be a few hornets still holed-up somewhere in the nest. I wondered if this might be good opportunity to shoot some decent close-up images. I reasoned the hornets would be groggy, I don’t know why I should think this, and that they might hang about at the entrance after my pretending to be a woodpecker by tapping the tree trunk with my fingernails; again, I don’t know why I should feel this. I would need to get my camera lens within a few inches of a hornet if I was to get the images I wanted.
I have a spotlight fitted to my camera and whilst practicing a few slow swoops at the nest exit with the light on, Spike, my jet black Welsh Cocker Spaniel, stood on his hind legs and started scrabbling like a mad thing against the tree trunk with his front paws. This upset my concentration and left me unsure of the best thing to do next, or indeed what might happen next. Events overtook me within seconds. The hornets began their escape. One after the other they zipped out of the nest entrance, banked away from me, and flew off into the darkness. Five hornets left the nest, and I managed to snap one, but not as closely as I had hoped. Now there were five hornets on the loose, and I had no Idea where they were. Spike was still scrabbling away like a mad thing, so I reckoned the best thing to do would be to leave him to it – he was obviously enjoying himself.