To Kill or Not to Kill Hornets
June 19, 2017 11:42 AM   Subscribe

There is a bald faced hornet nest on a fence next to my house. I discovered it when I was clearing some brush and got stung. Hurt like the dickens.

I have been doing some reading and they don't seem to be a big threat. I have mowed in that area and they have left me alone. My first reaction is the destroy the nest but I have read that they eat other bugs (always a good thing). I don't have any kids to worry about and the nest is in an area of the yard we don't frequent. What do you think, destroy or leave alone?
posted by zzazazz to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
Avoid them so you don't get stung again and let them live. I've done that often with wasps and hornets. Some of them make ingenious nests that are interesting to watch as they enlarge them. Usually at the end of the summer they die off and only the queen burrows into the ground to start again next year.
posted by beagle at 11:53 AM on June 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

I generally try to let all social insects live in my yard. They are pretty, fascinating, and by and large good to have around. It's shame so many kids grow up terrified of bees, they are so unfairly maligned. I've gotten along quite nicely with paper wasps, mud wasps, honey bees, solitary bees, quasi-social wasps, etc. The one exception is yellowjackets, those fuckers are nasty, and I kill their nests with extreme prejudice.

Bald faced hornets are borderline for me, they are a little on the aggressive side, but not too much. Not nearly as good of neighbor as a paper wasp or honey bee, but not nearly so nasty as the aformentioned yellowjackets. The hornet nest will get a bit bigger in terms of colony members for a little longer, but soon it will actually sort of contract as less new workers are born, and efforts shift to making reproductive members. Their colony works like an annual plant that blooms in the late summer and sets seed in late fall, and this one is probably just getting big enough to start making buds. The point is, they might not even nest in the area next year.

Finally, attacking a hornet nest is no light matter. You have to wake up early or stay up late, don protective gear, then attack with chemical weapons or fire. If you don't do it right, you'll get stung, perhaps repeatedly.

So, with my own personal ranking scheme, and knowing that they haven't bothered you until just now, I'd say give them some space and respect and they will likely do the same for you.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:55 AM on June 19, 2017 [10 favorites]

Yes, leave alone: they're good for the ecosystem of your backyard and probably won't ever bother you. Heck, we had three kids and two dogs in the house and yellowjackets built a nest near our back door and we left it alone; nobody got stung, and I enjoyed watching them eat tiny bits off our deck to make their nest. Most stinging, stripey bugs are only in 'fight' mode while their home/queen is being threatened, or they're directly injured -- just having them around is no problem, when in 'work' mode they are more worried about food and shelter than to seek out a huge mammal like you just to sting it.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:24 PM on June 19, 2017

I just moved a _very small_ paper wasp nest over the weekend, after acquiring a beekeeper's veil and making a "bug vacuum" out of a gallon milk jug, a vacuum cleaner, mesh fabric, and some tape.

I'm pretty sure it's not going to work out perfectly for the wasps, but I felt better about moving the nest and it was an interesting challenge. Do I recommend this for everyone? No. The only reason I was brave enough to try it was that it was a wee baby nest (6-8 flying wasps) and I'd always kind of wanted a beekeeper's veil.

Also, I don't have a cat right now, so I'm super susceptible to the beauty of other animals. These were very low-key red and black wasps.

I do not recommend anyone else do this.


Saturday night, I donned full protective gear and got all 6 resident wasps into the milk jug container (of my homemade bug vacuum) without injury to either myself or them, then refrigerated them overnight. Sunday morning, I put the entire gallon plastic jug inside a sealed, clear, very large plastic bag, and through a series of careful maneuvers, got them into a smaller plastic bag, then a portable cardboard chamber (a box with a small exit door and a large sealable entrance).

A straggler wasp showed up Sunday morning and I managed to trap it while wearing protective clothing, and reunited it with its mates.

I detached the nest carefully -- there were definitely live larva in there, which was fascinating to look at -- and mounted it on a small piece of wood, using a curved needle with some coated metal thread. I mounted that in a sheltered location in some nearby woods. Unfortunately, I think I stabbed at least one of the larva with my needle.

Then I mounted the cardboard chamber right next to it with some glue and tape, with the exit door right next to the nest. I had a long tether connected to the door cover so I could stand ~ 15-20 feet away to open the chamber and release the wasps. I'd worked quickly, though, and no wasps came out -- they might have still been asleep (I carried the chamber to the location in a cooler, monitoring the temperature with the thermal sensor on my multimeter, so they stayed asleep but didn't freeze).

I might check on them tonight, or I might leave it for a couple more days, just to see how they're getting on.

Sadly, another wasp of the same kind has arrived today and has been flying around the former location of the nest. I guess it's a ronin wasp now.

I got inspiration for this project from some guy who I think is in Hong Kong, who rescued a few nests from nearby park areas and put up some information on it. He had mixed success, but it seems that his best early success led to the queen abandoning the nest with the remaining workers raising the larva and eggs already present.

Of course, I realize this is not something most people would do, but we got a new macro lens a couple of weeks ago, and after getting enough photos with the little red faces looking straight at me, I didn't want to kill them unless I absolutely had to. Leaving them in place was unfortunately not an option.
posted by amtho at 1:33 PM on June 19, 2017 [10 favorites]

I would consider them "on notice". You didn't speculate how long they've been there just hanging out with no incidents; maybe it's been years, only you know when you last cleared that brush. But in a one point sample, that could be one sting in 10 years, or one sting in 1 month. Be aware that they're there, give them the widest margin that doesn't infringe on your activity, and maybe things will be perfectly comfortable. As stated above, there are definite benefits to having the nest there for the ecosystem. But if it were me and anybody got stung (again) I would be ready to exterminate with no guilt.
posted by aimedwander at 1:35 PM on June 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm also on team "don't worry about it unless it happens again." Odds are you just happened to disturb them to the point where you appeared threatening.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:41 PM on June 19, 2017

amtho, that's really fascinating. Are you updating anywhere with your progress? Love to know how it turns out.
posted by vivzan at 2:19 PM on June 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Re:amtho's cool moving story: I think they home in on home using largely visual cues, so we'd expect moving home on them to have mixed success. One cool thing is that even if the queen dies, many species's will start laying unfertilized male eggs. Hornets will definitely do that. Some waps species can make new queens from workers too but I'd not expect that to work that well even if it's possible in annual colonies.

So even a partially successful move can potentially help the superorganism survive long enough to reproduce.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:57 PM on June 19, 2017

I'd hust avoid them, if at all possible. Destroy only if they're living in a place that you need to be able to access. You can get quite close to most wasps without being attacked, as long as you don't disrupt their nest. I encounter wasp nests all the time in my work (I spend most of my day on roofs and in attics) and they've never bothered me.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:43 PM on June 19, 2017

Science fiction aside, consider the possibility that any day now, some being as much larger than you as you are than the hornets, may happen upon you and consider exterminating you.

Surely you wouldn't want that, would you? I bet the hornets feel the same. As much as possible, give them their space, and I suspect you'll suffer no further aggression.
posted by lometogo at 11:51 PM on June 19, 2017

Not that I particularly enjoy killing insects, but I think wasp spray is pretty fun. The range on those cans is 20+ feet
posted by rocketbadger at 12:03 AM on June 20, 2017

I followed the advice of those who said to leave the hornets alone. Since then, I have had no problems with them and I have enjoyed watching the them work and observing the growth of the nest.

I am glad I did not kill them.
posted by zzazazz at 1:29 PM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

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