Category Archives: Bugs

Behold the Home of the Bald-faced Hornet

Hanging Nest of the Bald-faced Hornet
Twelve-inch high Nest of the Bald-faced Hornet
Exit Hole on the Underside of Bald-faced Hornet Nest
Exit Hole on Underside of Bald-faced Hornet Nest

This foot-long nest belongs to a colony of Bald-faced Hornets. The name Bald-faced Hornet is doubly misleading. First, the insect is actually a wasp, not a true hornet. Second, the adjective “bald-faced” suggests a lack of facial features, but “bald” is simply an unfortunate shortening of “piebald,” which means having a black and white design. Bald-faced hornets are aggressive, swarm, and can sting multiple times. They have been known to fly past several people to target the exact individual who disturbed their nest and to remember the attacker for up to a week.

The beautiful design of the nest belies the danger within. Its scallop-shaped layers are made of a pulp, which the wasps produced by combining organic matter with their saliva. This outer shell is up to twelve layers thick. Inside, tiers of hexagonal honeycomb once housed hundreds of wasps. I use the past tense because I came upon this nest in late September when the inhabitants were probably gone. The queen mother who started building the nest in the spring as well as the hundreds of sterile female workers she reared have all died. Only a few impregnated queen-hopefuls survive and they overwinter elsewhere and will start a new nest next year. But horrors! All summer, this nest had been dangling at waist-level (i.e. within reach of children) just a few feet from a very popular trail in Westwoods!

Spotting Two Spotted Bugs and Something Clicked!

Giant Leopard Moth
Giant Leopard Moth
Eastern Eyed Click Beetle
Eastern Eyed Click Beetle

The Giant Leopard Moth is generally nocturnal, but I found it spending a lazy afternoon on the remains of an Eversource utility pole. It has iridescent blue legs and apparently a thorax to match, although it didn’t spread its wings to reveal that part of its body.

Two days later, I was startled by another monotone bug resting on the leaf of a bromeliad on my deck. The creature appeared to be staring at me with enormous black eyes outlined in white, but the “eyes” are protective markings to scare away predators.

It was indeed nerve-wracking getting in close to take a picture of this bug-eyed creature who appeared to be on high alert. Fortunately, the beetle didn’t perform the defensive trick responsible for the second half of his name, Eastern Eyed Click Beetle, else I might have dropped my camera. The beetle can lock its head, bend it backwards towards the thorax, then flick itself in the air. When it launches, it makes a clicking sound.

Oddly, the Giant Leopard Moth also has a talent for clicking! It can make clicking noises that are thought to interfere with the echolocation of bats, a main predator.

Paper Wasps in Winter

Nest of Paper Wasps
Wasp hotel with 225 living units.

I found this amazing structure on the ground near my house. Its former inhabitants — paper wasps – had probably been living right under my nose all year in this attached unit under my porch. I counted 225 hexagonal rooms – a major hotel! The hotel is shaped like an umbrella (we are seeing the underside in the picture) with a roof constructed with layers of homemade paper — organic matter that the wasps harvested, then mixed with their saliva, and formed into sheets.

Now, with temperatures in the teens, the wasps are either dead or hiding in crevises or inside my house. Unless there was an unusually plentiful food supply and easy access to warm quarters, the worker wasps would have sacrificed food and shelter (in other words, their lives) for their Queen. When the Queen reemerges, she will discover that her nest is gone. But, if she liked the location (and I hope she did), her offspring will build in the same place. So I’ll be looking out for another creative addition to our house in the spring of 2022.

Something Swallowed the Tail of this Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
A Swallowtail with missing hindwings and a triangular bite out of its right forewing.

Hopefully this lovely Eastern Tiger Swallowtail had achieved the ripe old age of about two weeks and had therefore lived a full life, for it couldn’t possibly survive much longer. I found it in the middle of the trail. Both hindwings were missing and its right forewing was damaged. Normally, in the presence of a person, a butterfly would fly away, but this one hopped. Its left forewing, still intact and operable, fluttered with each attempted takeoff so that the butterfly lifted a few centimeters on the jumps. When it was safely off the path and in the leaf mulch, I walked away with a pang in my chest – a familiar and necessary reminder of death that is one of the many offerings of walking in a forest.