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Life cycle of a hornet colony

Wasp queens are lone survivors to build new hives year after year

Yellowjacket wasps enter and exit a hive in Bloomingdale, searching for meat, fish and insects to feed to the hive’s larvae and searching for wood to built more of their paper nest. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

(Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the wasps pictured were yellowjackets. Specifically, they are bald-faced hornets, which are not true hornets but are rather a species in the yellowjacket family, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County. The lack of consistent yellow striping across their bodies and their dotted facial markings identify them as bald-faced hornets. These wasps can have 100 to 300 in a hive, as opposed to the 1,000 to 3,000 stated in the earlier version. Also, though the adults chew up insects, meat and fish to feed to their larvae, the hornet larvae do not secrete a sugary liquid for the adults, as other yellowjackets do. This article has been updated. The Enterprise regrets the errors.)

BLOOMINGDALE — Each year, a bald-faced hornet hive is built from a tree in a garden in Bloomingdale.

Bald-faced hornets are not true hornets but are rather a species in the yellowjacket family, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County. The lack of consistent yellow striping across their bodies and their dotted facial markings identify them as bald-faced hornets.

This hive was started this spring by the queen, called a “foundress,” who built the intricate honeycomb structure by herself from wood fiber chewed into a sort of paper until it was the size of a baseball.

A yellowjacket hive hangs from a tree in a Bloomingdale garden. Yellowjackets are wasps, not bees. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

These hives can house as many as 100 to 300 hornets, which build the hive out to around the size of a basketball.

Bald-faced hornets are wasps, not bees, and are one of the few social varieties who live in hives. They do not carry pollen. The females can sting repeatedly and use their stinger to subdue their prey. The adults eat insects, meat and fish, and feed the chewed-up pulp to the larvae.

The adult offspring will leave the hive to cross-mate with other colonies. Meanwhile, the new queens will build up fat reserves to overwinter. They will be the only ones to survive the winter, while fertilized, emerging in the spring to build their new hives.

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