Do Hornet Nests Die in Winter? Uncovering the Truth about Hornets and Cold Weather

As winter approaches, many people wonder if hornet nests die off with the cold weather. Hornets are social insects with a lifecycle that fluctuates with the seasons. Understanding their nesting habits and behavior during the winter months can provide insights into their survival strategies.

European hornets and Northern giant hornets are two common types of hornets that people encounter. The lifecycle of a European hornet has the nests active into late fall, but by early winter, the original queen and workers die. A similar pattern is seen in Northern giant hornets, where the only individuals that survive the winter are overwintering queens. These queens emerge in spring to find new locations to build their nests, while the previous year’s nests are left abandoned.

In summary, hornet nests do die during the winter, but the species survive through overwintering queens that reestablish colonies come springtime. This cycle ensures the continuation of the hornet population and their role within the ecosystem.

Hornet Nests and Winter Behavior

Hibernation and Queen Survival

During winter, hornet nests experience a change in activity. Most of the colony, including the workers, die off as temperatures drop. However, the queens undergo a process called hibernation to survive the harsh conditions. Here’s what happens:

  • Queens leave their nests before winter
  • They seek sheltered locations like tree bark or leaf litter
  • Queens store energy and remain inactive throughout winter

Examples of sheltered locations for queens include:

  • Hollow logs
  • Tree bark crevices
  • Earth burrows

Colony Lifecycle

Hornet colonies are primarily active during the warmer months. They have a distinct lifecycle:

  1. Queen emerges from hibernation and builds a nest.
  2. Queen lays eggs and raises the first batch of workers.
  3. Workers maintain the nest and support the queen’s production of more eggs.

During late fall, the original queen and workers start to die, leaving only the new queens to survive the winter. As a result, abandoned nests are often not reused the following year (as mentioned in this source).

Feature Winter Warmer Months
Colony Activity Inactive (except for queens) Active
Outdoor Nest Visibility More visible (due to leaf drop) Less visible
Queen Behavior Hibernates Builds nest, lays eggs, raises workers
Worker Behavior Die Help maintain nest and support queen

In conclusion, hornet nests typically become inactive during winter. While most colony members die, queens hibernate to survive the winter and establish new colonies in the warmer months.

Types of Hornets and Their Nests

Bald-Faced Hornets

Bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) are native to North America, including the United States and Canada. They have black bodies with distinctive white markings on their heads and white banding on their abdomens1. These hornets are social insects and build large, gray, paper-like nests made of chewed wood fibers mixed with saliva2. Nests are commonly found attached to tree branches, shrubs, utility poles, or houses.

European Hornets

Unlike bald-faced hornets, European hornets are found across Europe and have been introduced to the United States3. They are larger in size, measuring about 3/4 to 1 3/8 inches long and have brown bodies with yellow stripes on their abdomens and light-colored faces4. European hornets build fragile, tan paper nests in concealed places such as hollow trees, barns, outbuildings, hollow walls of houses, attics, and abandoned bee hives5.

Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets are another common type of hornet found in North America. These social insects usually build their nests underground, often in rodent burrows6. Yellow jackets have distinctive yellow and black striped bodies and are typically smaller than European hornets.

Comparison Table

Bald-faced Hornets European Hornets Yellow Jackets
Distribution United States, Canada Europe, United States North America
Nests Location Trees, shrubs, poles, houses Hollow trees, barns, walls, attics Underground
Body Coloration Black, white markings Brown, yellow stripes, light faces Yellow, black stripes

Effects of Temperature on Hornet Nests

Spring and Summer Nest Activity

During spring and summer, hornets are highly active as they build and expand their nests. Workers collect wood, which they chew into a pulp to create the paper-like material that forms their nests. The queen lays eggs, and the colony grows in size throughout these warmer months.

  • Hornets tend to be more aggressive when protecting their nests in spring and summer.
  • Temperature affects the size and activity level of hornets, with warmer temperatures promoting growth and activity.

Fall and Winter Nest Decline

As fall and winter set in, the hornet nest activity slows, and eventually, the colony dies off, except for the overwintering queens. The lower temperatures cause the hornets to become less active, and they are unable to maintain their nests.

  • New nests are built each year.
  • Males don’t have stingers, and they typically die off with the rest of the colony in winter, while the queens hibernate and start a new nest come spring.
Property Spring/Summer Fall/Winter
Nest Activity High Low
Aggressiveness More aggressive Less aggressive
Colony Size Growing Declining
Males Present Die off
Stingers Workers possess stingers Males don’t have stingers
Queens Lay eggs and build colony Hibernate, survive winter, and start a new nest in spring

Preventing and Removing Hornet Nests

Natural Predators and Benefits

  • Beneficial predators: Birds, spiders, and some insect species can help control hornet populations naturally.
  • Pollination and pest control: Hornets can also be helpful to the environment by pollinating flowers and feeding on other pests.

While hornets are often seen as aggressive stinging insects, they have natural predators like birds, spiders, and other insects that can assist in keeping their numbers under control. These beneficial predators can aid homeowners in reducing the chances of hornet nests in the area. Additionally, hornets do provide some benefits, such as pollination and pest control by feeding on other pests1.

Safe Removal Techniques

  • Wait for winter: Hornet nests die off in winter; remove the empty nest afterwards.
  • Deter hornets: Seal garbage cans, fill holes in trees, and remove outdoor food sources.

Homeowners can use a few safe removal techniques to help get rid of hornet nests in the vicinity. Waiting for winter is one option, as hornet colonies generally die off in the cold season and their paper nests can then be safely removed2. To deter hornets from nesting around your property, seal trash cans or fill holes in trees, and remove any outdoor food sources.

Professional Pest Management

  • Pest control experts: Highly skilled in locating nests, destroying them safely, and applying insecticides if needed.
  • Caution: Attempting to remove a hornet nest without professional assistance may cause injury or further problems.

In cases where hornets are an ongoing issue or the nests are hard to reach, homeowners are advised to contact a professional pest management company. Pest control experts are highly skilled in locating hornet nests, safely destroying them, and applying insecticides when necessary to prevent further infestations. It’s important to exercise caution and avoid attempting to remove a hornet nest without professional assistance, as this can lead to injury or exacerbate the problem.

Comparison Table

Method Pros Cons
Natural Predators Eco-friendly, no chemicals required Can’t control population fully
Safe Removal Techniques DIY, cost-effective Riskier, may not solve problem
Professional Pest Management Expert assistance, highly effective Costly, may require multiple treatments

Distinguishing Features of Hornet Nests

Location and Structure

Hornet nests vary in location depending on the species. For example, baldfaced hornet nests can be found in trees and other above ground locations. On the other hand, some hornet species have underground nests.

Nest structures also differ. Baldfaced hornets build an oblong structure while European hornets construct fragile, tan paper nests in concealed places.

Examples of nest locations:

  • Hollow trees
  • Barns
  • Outbuildings
  • Attics

Color and Material

The color of hornet nests varies depending on the species and the materials used. Baldfaced hornet nests, for example, are grayish with waves of dark and light colors washing over their surface.

Hornets use a unique method of creating their nests, which involves chewing up pieces of wood and forming paper-like pulp. This process results in the distinctive coloration and texture of hornet nests.

Comparing to Wasp and Bee Nests

Hornet nests differ from those of wasps and bees in both appearance and location. Here’s a comparison table to help you better understand the differences:

Insect Nest Location Nest Structure Nest Material
Hornet Above ground and underground, depending on species Oblong or paper-like, depending on species Wood chewed into pulp
Wasp (paper wasps) Above ground – eaves, windows, railings Umbrella-shaped, open cells Wood fibers and saliva
Bee (honeybees) Above ground – in hives made by humans or in hollow trees Multiple parallel combs within a hive Beeswax

Keep in mind that hornets are a type of social wasp. Although their nests often have different materials and structures, hornets, wasps, and bees are all flying insects that create complex nests to house their colonies.

Hornet Behavior and Interaction with Humans

Diet and Feeding Patterns

Social wasps, like hornets, feed mainly on insects such as larvae, sugar-rich nectar, and ripe fruits. For example, they benefit human environments by eating:

  • Pest insects
  • Grubs and larvae
  • Small insects in gardens and yards

During picnics and outdoor events, hornets may be attracted to:

  • Sweet food and drinks
  • Fallen or accessible fruit
  • Decaying meat

Stings and Aggression

Most hornet species don’t sting unless they perceive a direct threat to their nest. However, there are some differences in aggression levels between species. For example:

  • Asian hornets: more aggressive
  • European hornets: less aggressive

When a hornet stings:

  • Painful and potentially dangerous
  • Multiple stings can lead to serious health issues

Protecting Your Home and Yard

To ensure the safety of your home and yard, here are some steps you can take:

  • Regularly inspect your property for new nests
  • Identify and seal potential entry points for hornets
  • Keep the area clean and free of food sources that attract hornets
  • Consider hiring a professional for nest removal if needed

Comparison of Asian and European Hornet Features

Feature Asian Hornet European Hornet
Size Smaller (1″-1.5″) Larger (0.75″-1.37″)
Nest Location Exposed areas (e.g., trees, roofs) Concealed spaces (e.g., hollow walls, abandoned beehives)
Aggression More aggressive Less aggressive
Diet Insects, nectar, fruits Insects, nectar, fruits

Population management is crucial for the safety of both humans and the ecosystem. Hornets, like other social wasps, have a mated queen responsible for producing new offspring. Controlling the queen’s population directly affects the overall wasp nest population.

Footnotes

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Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts

3 thoughts on “Do Hornet Nests Die in Winter? Uncovering the Truth about Hornets and Cold Weather”

  1. Yes, I remember these nasty wasps, and I lived there for 6 years. A very large paper wasp that nested in the mangroves. We happened to live at Sapphire beach in the USVI. We all worked there as contractors and engineers. On our days off we always played Frisbee or disc golf all around the hotel and complex. This involved shooting though the mangroves.
    Errant shots there were very bad. To recover our disc and ego, we had to recover it.
    If you got close to a nest, each one would come out and sting you 4 or 5 times each. If this happens, you go home, have a large rum and soda and go to bed.
    They are as bad as a scorpion sting.
    Thanks, this is only one out of thousands of experiences I had there. I could rival Herman Wouk with some of them.

    Reply
  2. Yes, I remember these nasty wasps, and I lived there for 6 years. A very large paper wasp that nested in the mangroves. We happened to live at Sapphire beach in the USVI. We all worked there as contractors and engineers. On our days off we always played Frisbee or disc golf all around the hotel and complex. This involved shooting though the mangroves.
    Errant shots there were very bad. To recover our disc and ego, we had to recover it.
    If you got close to a nest, each one would come out and sting you 4 or 5 times each. If this happens, you go home, have a large rum and soda and go to bed.
    They are as bad as a scorpion sting.
    Thanks, this is only one out of thousands of experiences I had there. I could rival Herman Wouk with some of them.

    Reply

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