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Dolichovespula maculata L.

On climbing hemp vine.   Can also be seen on climbing aster which has a longer bloom period (September-November.)

The baldfaced hornet is really a yellow jacket, with a sting  worse than many yellow jackets.   It is very protective of its nest and can sting repeatedly.   Unique to this species is the capacity to squirt venom from its stinger into the eye of the nest intruder, causing watering of the eye and temporary blindness.

Hornets are social insects living in a matriarchal order.  The queen bee, a fertilized worker bee,  overwinters in logs, stumps or soft ground cover. With spring, she begins construction of a paper nest, lays eggs, and collects insects to feed the larvae as they hatch out.  The first generation of workers  continue with the nest building and maintenance, foraging for food and caring for the young. The queen’s duty, after that, is to continue to lay eggs.  A colony can be as large as 700 bees and the nest, the size of an elongated basketball.   The nest  shown in the photograph above was about 20 inches long and very active.

From spring through summer the eggs all develop into female worker bees.  In the fall the queen lays eggs which become either male or female.  When fully matured, these bees mate.  Apparently the male drone bees exist to fertilize the females.  Drones do not sting.  The fertilized adult females overwinter.  They become colony builders (queens) the next season.

Even in north Florida, old nests are abandoned after each season.  Except for the fertilized worker bees, the whole colony dies after a season, including the queen.

Hornets feed on nectar, tree sap, fruit pulp,  insects and other arthropods.  They have been known to scavenge raw meat.

Animals which prey upon the hornets are raccoons, striped skunk and fox.   They tear the nests apart in the fall when the nest is not as active.  They eat the adults, pupae and larvae.

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