Sunday, June 24, 2012

OBJECT #11: Hornets’ Nest

    I have two hornets’ nests.  This is the smaller one and, unfortunately, I can’t remember the story behind it very well anymore.  The second nest is more recent, and therefore I remember a lot more about it.  The second nest is junk in my garage, not my basement, but if you won’t tell, I won’t either.

    We discovered the second hornets’ nest in one of our trees several years ago.  As soon as I saw how large it was I knew I just had to preserve it somehow.  (NOTE:  If I had discovered this nest out in the woods I would not have determined to collect it.  Insects have their place in nature, but hanging in the backyard right near the place where my children play is not acceptable.)

    My daughter (college-age at that time and an animal science major) volunteered to “suit up” in the best we could muster for a hornet-proof suit.  I think we used a raincoat, snow pants, boots, gloves, a motorcycle helmet and a scarf.  The rest of us prepared for our role as back-up crew.  We stood ready with a large, empty trash can (and lid) and a can of hornet spray. 

    We had waited until dusk so that hopefully all the hornets would have returned home to the nest and they would be calmly bedding down for the night.  Most bees and wasps in our area won’t pursue for more than a short distance, but bald-faced hornets have been known to pursue up to 300 feet (and are able to sting multiple times).  After they have gone to bed, though, they are fairly passive.  Hopefully, they would not be overly bothered about their nest being jostled a bit.  My daughter went up on a ladder with a hedge clipper and cut the branch on either side of the nest.  She slowly and calmly carried the nest over to the trash can and set it inside.  The nest was quickly sprayed with hornet spray (as well as the inside of the can) then the lid popped on.

    At first you could hear a bit of angry buzzing if you put your ear right on the side of the can.  After a few hours it seemed quiet, but just to make sure, we left the lid on the can for at least a full day.  After opening it cautiously we found that our plan had succeeded and the insects had been vanquished.   We were able to examine the nest at our leisure and cut out a small section to see how they had built the inside.  Like bees, hornets favor an architecture based on hexagons.  There were a few infant hornets (now dead) still inside the hexagonal tubes.  Hornets don’t make wax like bees do, so the ends of the hexagons were plugged with paper, not with wax.   I cut out a section of the bottom so that the inside architecture was visible.

    I hung the nest on the underside of our dining canopy, as extra decoration, beside my homemade Chinese lantern.  It stayed there until fall, at which time I hung it on the inside of our outdoor storage shed.  For the next two summers I brought the nest back out again, using it as part of my patio decor.  I got used to having it there and would forget to let visitors know that it was an extinct nest.

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