Stirring Up Hornets Nests!
Billowing clouds of dust and the distant thrum of combine and tractor proclaimed time to bring in the harvest. Over the wood a field away the constantly mewing buzzard caught our attention. Its keen eyes had spotted the approach of another and it was loudly stating its claim to the territory. Eventually after much more "pee-aahing" by the resident, and answering but quieter calls from the intruder, the mini dispute was settled and a more violent reaction averted. The resident bird had won.
Meanwhile down on the lane my sharp eyed friend had spotted a large brown and yellow wasp landing on an oak tree and disappearing inside! We looked closer and found a hornet's nest! It had been constructed within the tree where a branch had previously broken off, and rot had set in. Contrary to popular belief, hornets although the UK's largest wasp, tend not to be as aggressive as others. Taking that past heard statement on trust, as I've never before found a hornet's nest, I went much nearer to get an eye level look. From the outside there was little visible of the nest itself – only a number of small rounded hoods constructed of a thick papery material peeping below the tree's remaining heartwood. I later discovered that these "hoods" may be devices to help regulate the temperature inside the nest.
The queen hornet will have found this nest site back in the spring. At first she constructed cells in which to lay her eggs, which grew into grubs and eventually became female worker hornets. During the summer these workers foraged for 1) wood to make papery cells to hold more worker and later male grubs, and 2) insects to feed the developing grubs. By late summer the male hornets will also have emerged from the nest. As I lent closer several hornets buzzed past close to my ears and into a dark crack in the rotten wood. Hornets apparently leave a sentry just outside the nest's entrance (you can just see it on attached photo), and will inspect any potential threats. Presumably discerning that I posed no threat I was left in peace. After mating only the queen hornet will survive the approaching winter.
What riches even a short walk can bring! Let me know what you have seen.
Picture of Buzzard flying high in the air - By Aviceda (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Picture of Print describing the life cycle of the Hornet - "HornetLifeLyd" by Richard Lydekker - Lydekker, R. 1879 The Royal Natural History. Volume 6. Frederick Warne and Co. (from www.archive.org). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
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