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Nature Notebook – Winter Wasp Nests

Winter hiking can be a great time to observe nature. On a walk in the woods or even in your yard, a unique harmless winter find could be a bald-faced hornet nest or other aerial wasp nest.

While their common name leads one to believe they are a hornet, dolichovespula maculata are classified as a wasp. These native wasps can deliver a sting if disturbed, most people don’t know they are around until the leaves fall off the trees and the uninhabited nest is left to decay.

The nests are fun to find and examine (in the winter). The papery layers, called carton, are created by the wasps mixing chewed wood pulp and a secretion from their labial glands. When the queen emerges from her overwintering spot in the spring, she starts with a single layer of cells where eggs will be laid, with a few layers of paper surrounding it.

The nest increases in size when the newly emerged worker wasps eat away the inner layers of the shell and add this material along with new material to the outside. Depending on the wood source, colors of the nests are grayish to brown.