Hornets are one of those insects that many people are afraid of, but they are also very important in our natural world.
Extension Entomologist Dr. Philip Nixon summed this up well in answering a recent question about how to kill hornets. "It is frequently a better option to live with the nest than to get rid of it. The hornets are unlikely to attack as long as people don't get within three feet of the nest or disturb it by throwing rocks at it or hitting it. Essentially, as long as the nest is at least ten feet off of the ground, one can easily live with it. If allowed to stay, the nest will not be reoccupied next year, and it will not increase the likelihood of a nest in that area the following year."
David Robson, Extension Specialist reinforced this by saying, "Hornets are usually friends of man because they capture harmful insects and pollinate flowers. Although these insects will attack and sting if their nest is disturbed, they are usually not a problem if left alone."
Bald-faced hornets are about one-inch long and are black, with the face and tip of the abdomen being whitish. They construct gray, football-shaped, paper nests that are usually found hanging in a tree or shrub. These nests die off during the winter. New nests are started each summer by mated females that over winter under loose tree bark.
Robson says that hornet nests close to doorways, sidewalks and other heavy use areas should be treated and removed to guard against possible stings. Spraying an aerosol wasp and hornet spray insecticide can kill hornets.
Dr. Nixon recommends that you wear protective clothing to guard against stings. Spray the nest in the evening but early enough to not need a light. Aroused hornets fly at lights. At this time, most of the hornets will be in the nest except for a half dozen or so guards on the outside of the nest. These guards are changed about each half-hour through the night, so they are alert.
Although hornets will sting to defend their nest, those foraging for food rarely sting. Because these wasps feed flies and other harmful insects to their young and pollinate plants in the process of gathering nectar to feed themselves, they are considered beneficial to man. Their nests should be allowed to survive in most situations.
The nest of the bald-faced hornet can be brought indoors for decoration. If you are planning to bring the nest indoors, DO NOT APPLY INSECTICIDE. Let the nest die out naturally. After several hard freezes (late November-early December), remove the nest. Clip the branch that holds the nest and use it for hanging. Place the nest in an oven at 150 degrees F for 30 minutes or place it in a deep freezer for a week. Spray it with a ready-to-use acrylic spray to preserve.