200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 116: “Where Hornets Make Their Homes ”

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Paul Kiry next to the hornet nest at his home
Academy chemist Paul Kiry stands next to the bald-faced hornet’’s nest outside his house.

Where Hornets Make Their Homes

You’ll normally find him in the environmental biogeochemistry lab, but last summer, Academy scientist Paul Kiry learned a lot about insects. He became interested when he went outside for a refreshment on a sunny June afternoon and noticed what he describes as “a nest that looked like an upside-down 50 milliliter volumetric flask” on the rear overhang of his New Jersey home. He decided to keep observing, and throughout the summer months he watched as the insects that called the nest home flew in and out of the nest and added layers to its construction.

“They were friendly, and I noticed that even as the water ran off the gutter and dripped onto the nest, they took care of it,” he says.

Paul did some online research and collected a specimen to bring in for analysis by Academy entomologist Greg Cowper, who identified the nest as the home of the bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata). These hornets chew wood, mix it with their saliva, and make it into paper to build their nests. Paul’s hornets abandoned their nest in September after building it about as big as a basketball, which is typical behavior for this species. They will not return to their nest next year, but a new queen from the nest will hibernate during the winter and begin the nest-building cycle anew next spring.

Paul and Greg removed the nest in December, and you can see it on display in our Bugs… Outside the Box exhibit! Hurry in—the exhibit closes on January 16, 2012.

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