Me and the Hornet Queen: When the Wasp Decoys Don’t Work

Thu, 05/26/2016 - 12:18 -- Admin

For many years I’ve kept yellow jacket wasp nests away from our house with a wasp nest decoy. I bought the first one which cost  $10, and was eaten by the wind by June. Then I discovered a DYI that has worked beautifully for years, and cost nada. These decoys work because wasps are highly territorial, and will fight to the death to defend their nest and the territory it commands. For the home owner this means if you hang a nest on each corner of your house eaves you will keep wasps from nesting in an area roughly the size of an average city lot.

How To Make a Wasp Nest Decoy

The false nest is a small brown paper bag, the size used for lunches. Gather the open end into a neck, blow taut to make it mostly round, and wrap it around the top with a long twist tie. It won’t hold air, it isn’t meant to; you simply need to make it puffy-looking. With a black marker make a large dot about the size of a quarter at the bottom or at one corner. Secure the bag close to the top of the wall at the soffit or at the outer corner of the eaves if that area is not windy. I use the end of the twist tie and wrap it around a nail. It doesn’t matter if the bag flaps a bit in the wind.

Each spring (usually early April) I wait for a queen to come searching along the house and eaves for a spot to nest, then I hang the decoys. The next day she will come back to the same area, do a fly-by or two, then leave and not come back. The decoy looks like a mature nest – in other words, someone else got there first, they haven’t seen her and she has time to escape. If she returns to the area, it is only to hunt.

In my old garden shed I would sometimes also get a paper wasp – the wasp who lays the flat, open-ended “honey comb” nest. They are easily dissuaded by knocking the nest down. I rarely have to do it twice. If a yellow jacket wasp offered to build her nest, I’d chase her out of the shed, crush the nest, and put up the decoy. If I could save what she began, I’d put it out on the sidewalk. The queen would go to it first, then leave. Often she’d return the next day, fly around the shed, then leave for good. The decoy system worked in all areas successfully for me for over 10 years. Or at least it did until the year a bald faced hornet queen arrived.

The Hornet Queen Arrives

I was noodling in my shed in April when I discovered a hornet queen working on the foundation of a nest.  They are quite slow and docile when they are molding the hanger and base of the nest, but as hornets are not known to be chased away easily, I caught her up in a 500 gram yogurt container, took her outside, opened the container and threw her up and out into the prevailing breeze. I destroyed the nest. The next day she was back, and had rebuilt what I’d destroyed. I repeated the exercise. Although I stood very still after I released her, she took a dive at me before leaving. Phew! I immediately hung the wasp nest decoy in the shed.

On day three she was there again – and this time she was perched at the bottom of the decoy near the false black-dot opening, nosing around the edges. I swear she was waiting to do in the first wasp who emerged from the decoy nest. As I approached her, she turned her attention to me, lowering her head and raising her wings in an aggressive stance. That was one mean gal!

I’ve discovered from past experience that bees and wasps get to know you, and I’ve been left quite alone in gardens where the bee, bumbler, even hornet nests are up high, or generally out of the way. But I think this queen knew me as that giant monster who’d already destroyed two of her nesting attempts, and was ready to teach that monster a thing or two.

 I got a yogurt container, poked air holes all over it, cut a square at one edge of the lid and through the lip, much like the self-closing sippy holes in a take-away coffee cup. I used masking tape to keep the closure shut. I managed to catch her up, taking as much of her nest as I could.

Then the queen and I took a walk out to a wooded area that was safe from the wind, with lots of high overhanging tree branches. I put the container on its side and opened the hatch. The next day she was gone, and I took the container home for recycling.

Now, ten years later and many miles away on Vancouver Island another hornet queen decided to make her nest under our new house’s eaves. Her nest was right in the middle of the house’s length between the two decoy nests hanging on the eaves at each corner, decoys that successfully chased away this year’s wasp queens just last month. I thought my first adventure on the mainland was an anomaly so I knocked down the hornet queen’s foundation work (about half the size of a ping-pong ball) while she was inside, and ducked indoors behind the patio screen before she could crawl out. Disoriented and with no one to blame, she fled the area. I hung a third decoy over the spot she’d begun building the first nest.

Living Among the Warriors

I was gone for most of the next day, but when I returned to cook dinner the queen was back, building right next to the decoy! I sensed a pattern: hornets do not respect the wasp decoy. She was much further along with the new nest, having had a whole day to work on the structure. She was docile while she worked so I could have killed her, but I find her whole race fascinating, especially her distant cousins the bees. And I have to respect that someone so small can instill such fear with her protective instincts in someone so relatively large as myself.

Besides, these insects are all very important as pollinators so when they bless my yard I live as close to the more dangerous species as is safe. Her nest, however, was only a couple of feet overhead and right over a main walkway at the house. The next morning took her to live in a wooded area, this time along a nearby creek where there is no human traffic. It was a good excuse to go for an hour’s stroll.

May she have many fierce and beautiful children.

By Jo Canning

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