The bald-faced hornet is a fairly large wasp that is mostly black, with white or ivory markings on the face, thorax, and toward the tip of the abdomen. The wings are translucent dark brown.
In winter after leaf-fall, look up into trees for old nests, which are large, rounded, papery, and gray. You have probably seen one of these nests in a natural history display. Unlike the wasps we usually call yellowjackets, this species is not yellow. Its larger size and black and ivory coloration make it easy to distinguish as a distinct type of social wasp.
Habitat and Conservation
In spring the overwintering queen starts building the nest and lays her first eggs. She feeds these larvae, which become infertile female workers. Workers are the most commonly encountered by people, as they do most of the work outside the nest, while the queen specializes in egg-laying and stays at the nest. As winter begins, the queen lays eggs that become new queens and male drones. Once these mature and mate, and temperatures drop, all die except the fertilized young queens.
These and other “eusocial” (highly social) wasps represent a peak of insect social development. Each colony is a family, all descended from a single queen. The queen hibernates over winter in a protected place, emerges in spring, and lays the eggs for the whole colony. Scientists call the colonies of eusocial insects “superorganisms” because the division of labor is greatly specialized, individuals cannot survive on their own, and it takes the efforts of the entire colony in order to reproduce itself.