A Hornets’ Nest

I was slogging and slogging (and slogging) through a post yesterday that would likely have been as painful for you to read as it was for me to write, when I gave up and headed out to work. I didn’t get very far, like driveway far, before I noticed some weird substance all over the ground. It turned out to be the wasps’ nest, now shattered in pieces all over the driveway.

I still don’t know what happened, but I can tell you, as I was scrolling through the internet, which I was sure would tell me what had happened, that most people do not like wasps. There was a token site or two touting their helpfulness with your garden, but nearly everything I came across was how to rid myself of them.

In the old days, those days being back when I lived on Irwin Street, I lived with wasps annually. Except that when I finally got around to looking them up, I decided they were probably bald-faced hornets instead.

The hornets set up shop in a different place every year, but always on or close to the house. One year, pre-Lynn, I had left a box of firewood kindling on the front porch, and that’s where they decided to settle. It didn’t matter too much, because in those days I was generally using my side door through the garage as my main entrance (maybe because of the hornets, I don’t really remember), but I did eventually set out to move the entire box, trying not to disturb the occupants.

It didn’t work, and they were greatly disturbed. Although I was wearing my dog-walking suit (a pair of insulated coveralls), gloves, some sort of hat and glasses, one of the little guys found its way to my temple. I probably deserved the sting for disrupting them. That’s the only time I’ve been stung by the creatures sharing my abode.

One year when they set up shop under the eaves, we were having the house painted, and the painter kept offering to rid us of the wasp-hornets. (That’s when I went looking and determined they might be hornets.) The painter was a friend of ours (by then Lynn was hanging around), and used to my peculiarities, so he didn’t push the issue when I insisted they had a right to their home. But I still feel bad that he got stung while painting in their vicinity.

Now we no longer live on Irwin, and I didn’t notice any wasps or hornets on our new house last year. I doubt they followed us out here — they were probably in the trees before this very convenient house arrived to give them purchase for their home. But they picked a not-great place for their first home on our home: right in front of the garage bay I use.

Their hive started out very small, not much of an encumbrance, but it kept getting bigger and bigger — the biggest I’ve ever seen attached to a house I lay claim to. Eventually the back end butted up against the garage door. I couldn’t help it: I needed to move the door.

But their structure held, and since July when they first set up housekeeping I’ve been opening and closing the large garage door with no apparent disruption to their routine. There were mornings a couple of weeks ago when the vibration appeared to roust all the hive’s denizens, but they kept their rumblings up above my head and all seemed well.

Until this morning, when I came around the corner and discovered the entire bottom half of the hive ripped and scattered all over the driveway.

I don’t know what happened. I’m reasonably sure it was intact on Sunday — in fact, I don’t believe I opened the door for any reason. But this morning it’s in tatters, a few little hornets huddled together in the combs of what was the interior.

Back to the internet. I contemplated, earlier this year, trying to contact someone at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, because I figured someone there could tell me what these little stingers were and what their process would be. But I also figured that the second I said “wasps” they would assume I wanted to be rid of them and lecture me. Or at least tell me they don’t offer an extermination service.

Not that I haven’t had several offers of assistance. When Julie from Habitat for Humanity came to pick up some donations, early in the process, she declared them to be
“black-body wasps” and told me to get rid of them. She’s a beekeeper, and she assured me they would kill bees. But I’ve seen plenty of bees hanging around Lynn’s flowers just around the corner from the garage — it seems like there should be room for everyone out here.

When Branden from my woodshop came to discuss the garage loft he’s building for me, he offered to take the nest out himself. He didn’t seem to believe me when I told him it was fine where it was.

I mean, do any of us really think this will drive the hornets away? There’s an entire house full of eaves, plus a shed, plus a pile of trees. Maybe they wouldn’t be quite so proximate as the garage door, but they’re still going to be around.

I went to the internet yesterday, but didn’t find anything that addressed why the nest fell apart. Lots of methods of extermination, which I skipped over, and a few tips on identification. I think I’m back to bald-faced hornets.

Paper wasps, which covers a variety of species, apparently build open-face nests of the combs, like the combs I can see now but which were hidden until yesterday. Yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets are the ones who provide that papier-mache-type covering. But yellowjackets build their nests on or near the ground.

This is the sad part of the story. I knew, from my Irwin experience, that the hive gets vacated and never re-used, but I didn’t realize that most of the residents die. The impregnated females go into hibernation in some protected spot, and the next summer they build a new colony. Which I suppose explains why it started out so small it looked like it would only hold one or two hornets.

I don’t know if these females — or maybe it’s just one per hive — had already abandoned this nest, and maybe without standard maintenance the house just broke apart. I hadn’t really noticed any lessening of activity, though. But I can’t figure what might have gotten to the nest, and so far the internet isn’t helping me out. I may yet have to try someone at the biological lab, or maybe someone at Western Not State would know.

I am mostly just hoping it’s part of the hornets’ natural process and not an early ending of their short season. Nights are getting cold around here, and those hornets probably need the walls of their house to keep warm.

Even though this was not their most convenient place to place their home, it worked out for everyone involved. Until yesterday. I hope that was part of Mother Nature’s plan, and doesn’t doom my hornets to an early demise.

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