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Aggressive hornets’ nest creates problem for homeowner

I first noticed the nest when a wren flew from the top of the ladder.

Granted, Matt and M’Kinzy had told me the night before that there was a paper wasp nest by the garage. Neither had said a word about the wren nest.

To me, the garage is that two-story thing at the end of the drive. Apparently, to them, it was the movie room that used to be a garage that is beside the entryway. Needless to say, my heart quickened as I noted that it was not a paper wasp nest, but rather a bald-faced hornet’s nest. A rather large one at that!

I didn’t realize that they were bald-faced hornets and had to look that up, but I did know they were not paper wasps and a tad more territorial than the paper wasps.

If I didn’t know that from my childhood on the farm, the several critters buzzing the nest would have kept me and others away. While I am all about co-existing with nature, these had to go!

Of all the things that I have had to deal with up close and personal, hornets were new to me.

The hornets outside my door are not actually hornets. They are social insects and are most active during the day. The bald-faced hornets are a type of yellow jackets. The family Vespidae includes wasps, yellow jackets and hornets. Hornets are a small subset of wasps. They are not native to North America. So, the yellow jacket is not truly a hornet. (The European hornet is now common on the East Coast.)

Granted, I have some experience with stinging insects due to the bee hives. Bees are the fuzzy pollinators that make honey. When a bee stings, the barbed stinger is ripped out of the body and the bee dies. My pain is somewhat mitigated by knowing the bee must have been really worried to have given its life to sting me.

Wasps have two pairs of wings and are definitely not fuzzy. Only the females have stingers, but they can sting people repeatedly. Like other wasps, hornets can sting over and over again and can be extremely aggressive.

Bald-faced hornets greatly resemble their yellow jacket cousins, with black bodies and a predominantly white-patterned face. There are two slanted lines running from their midsection towards their head and on the latter part of their abdomen. Yellow jackets, paper wasps and these “hornets” look triangular from the side.

Pest control websites recommended that people avoid contact to prevent getting stung. Tiny cracks should be sealed so bald-faced hornets cannot enter homes when seeking shelter. Picnickers should keep food covered, not wear strong fragrances and closed toed shoes to protect themselves from rogue hornets.

Bald-faced hornets build paper nests off of the ground. They add saliva to chewed wood pulp to fashion a paper-like nest, usually in trees, shrubs, on overhangs, utility poles, houses, sheds or other structures. Big nests can be 14 inches in diameter and more than 24 inches in length.

I was happy to only have a 10-inch nest attached just over the side door to my house.

Unlike the bee comb, or paper wasp nest, the hornet nest is enclosed. There are stacks of paper wasp-like nests inside the paper ball. These are two sided somewhat like honeycomb. The queen will be in the top of the stacks. There is a single entrance toward the bottom. Like my bees, the queen is larger in size than their adult-worker counterparts.

Lots of people have been seeing these bald-faced hornets this year. The population peaks in the late summer. This is when males emerge from unfertilized eggs and impregnate the new females for the next season. The inseminated new queens are the only ones that survive over winter.

The remaining members of the nest die off, only to repeat the next spring and summer. Unlike other stinging insects, bald-faced hornets do not reuse their nests. Nests will be rebuilt each time.

My mother decided to get one of these empty nests for a decoration one fall. She wrapped up the nest in a sealed plastic bag. When they warmed up, the hornets chewed their way out of the nest and were loose in the house. I was glad to be at school when all of this happened, but I heard that it was quite exciting.

Unlike my bees, bald-faced hornets are aggressive and will attack anyone or anything that invades their space. Most other stinging insects only sting when they feel extremely threatened. This meant I was not thrilled about my part in the nest removal. Matt even suggested a professional. I figured I had the suit and researched and could do it.

I received several suggestions from my Facebook post.

Soapy water, gasoline and spray were at the top of the list. A torch was suggested, but Rusty said he had once responded to an apartment fire that had started by burning a hornet nest. Possibly a good suggestion for the client that found a copperhead baby in her house, but it seemed extreme for my hornet situation.

So, I donned my bee suit and went to battle.

Matt and M’Kinzy had picked up two cans of hornet spray. I won’t say that my heart was not beating a little fast at midnight when I tried to get the twist top off the spray can. Let me just say it is difficult to read in the near dark, the diagram doesn’t make a lot of sense and hornets were definitely attracted to any light.

I got the wrong plastic piece off the can. (It is a tiny piece on the front that twists off, not the top.) I went back in for the second can and got the safety piece off correctly this time.

Standing several feet away, by the light of the full moon, I emptied the can into the paper ball. I even managed to not wheeze too much from the bug spray.

The whole thing was somewhat anti-climatic. No hornets came boiling out. None even staggered out and dropped. I didn’t see any at all except for the one that continued to attack the motion detector light by the door.

The nest still hangs by the side door. I might even spray it again.

Sometime soon, I will use the hoe to knock it down into a bucket and burn it. The wren nest can stay on the ladder until she is done with the nest. I will borrow the ladder from the clinic to change the light bulb. I am good sharing with nature, well, except for territorial bald-faced hornets beside my entrance.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566