Nothing to Trifle With: Bald Faced Hornets

My first introduction to a bald-faced hornet was when my sister and Dad and I were getting firewood at Trestle Creek. I was riding in the back of the truck standing up as we drove along the logging roads to harvest from slash piles.

Something bit me hard on my eyelid and I instinctively grabbed it and snatched it away. The feeling of it was truly disgusting and something I never forgot. It squirmed in my fingers and was terrifyingly large and resistant. But that gross-out was nothing compared to the next 72 hours.

My eye swelled up immediately and throbbed for the next couple of days. Then it began to heal but simultaneously to itch, as my Grandmama would say, “like the devil.”

Objectively, bald faced hornets are quite beautiful, emblazoned in bold black and white, with a powerful look and a sentience that seems to go beyond the usual insect.

They are intelligent and amazing creatures. And their lodges are beautiful, too.

But when they set up shop in the green pear in summer of 2022, they really gave us a run for our money.

I heard a low thrum of buzzing one day and noticed my drip irrigation sprayer in the birdbath in the lower garden was attracting a litany of insects. Including some yellowjackets, some honeybees, a butterfly . . .  and several very large bald-faced hornets.

Then I looked up to see a paper nest about the size of a grocery store cantaloupe and my blood sort of seized up as I backed slowly away.

Let me explain my trepidation. When I get stung, it is a miss-a-day-of-work event. I swell up and am pretty uncomfortable all over, like the flu. I usually resort to taking Benadryl and calling it a day.

My uncle is officially allergic, carrying an epi-pen with him, which makes me think my sting reactions could get even worse over time.

So, I called on my husband Jared, heavy lifting guru and dangerous situation taker-of-the-bull-by-the-horns. (Here with Farm Cat Miles, off duty when pictured).

It was really a conundrum — poison was out of the question because we don’t do that at Double Decker Farm, plus the tree was loaded with baby green pears.

These are the pears that bring you spiced pear jelly, coming soon. And all the other fruit trees were full of fruit, too.

The nest was toward the tip of a limb — and since that tree is a quick and vigorous grower who would not be hurt by a little trimming, we decided he could cut off the limb.

He planned this butt-clenching event for as early in the morning as possible, to take advantage of the bald-faced hornets’ sluggishness from the cooler temperatures.

Step one was the cutting. With a very long pole.

Step two was the running away.

Step three was the tentatively checking back.

Then he was able to put the nest into a plastic trash can and move it far away. Balls!

Only this turned out to be a war of attrition — bald faced hornets are intelligent and tenacious.

The next day we noticed that one part of the nest had not been removed because they had cleverly built the original mansion in a fork. With this remaining material, they built a new nest about half as big in about twenty-four hours.

The next day, he cut off more of the limb. Repeat the next day.

Then he took to jet-blasting them with the hose wand twice a day to try and convince them to find another place to set up shop.

But I had my doubts because they knew a great thing when they saw it: regular water and ripening fruit that would soon provide a plethora of food just from dropped apples and bird-pecked blueberries.

But Jared won the day (and my heart) on this one. He kept up the firehose treatment and they finally left — as far as we can tell.

But don’t think for one minute that I wasn’t very careful when I picked the transparent apple tree in late August. With every buzz I am sure I swiveled my head around like an owl, trying to I.D. the vespid.

ves·pid| ˈvespid | noun any wasp of the family Vespidae, including yellow jackets and hornets.

Honeybees and mason bees and bumblebees, Ok.

Bald faced hornets? Maybe time to beat a hasty retreat.

Now we are entering the third week of September and are well into red dessert pear time (wonderful!). That puts us closer to green pear harvest time, so I may have more news when I set up the orchard ladder and take a gander up high.

You and I both know I will be using the look-before-you-get-the-crap-stung-out-of-you approach. Until it has frozen hard, you’re kidding yourself if you think bald-faced hornets won’t rally and teach you a lesson.

However, here’s to sharing our environment with other animals as much as we can — and when we can’t, STILL not resorting to poison!

And a big old thank you to Jared, mighty hornet warrior!