Many people are not aware that hornets and yellow jackets are actually wasps, but everyone learns at an early age to associate these names with danger. This is good training, as wasps, especially the hornet and yellow jacket varieties, send numerous Americans to the hospital each year as a result of sustaining their painful and highly venomous stings. The state of Massachusetts is home to several wasp species, the most dangerous of which may be the bald-faced hornet. Unfortunately, populations of these hornets are becoming larger with each passing year within Massachusetts and other northeastern US states.

Much like yellow jackets and many other wasp species, bald-faced hornet colonies continue to grow rapidly in quantity and population size as the summer season progresses. In fact, bald-faced hornet populations grow exponentially during the summer season. Once the fall season arrives, all colony members die with the exception of the queen. The queen overwinters in order to raise a new colony the following spring. If it were not for the cold winter months in the nation’s northeast region, bald-faced hornets would be far more prevalent in the northeast.

Most years see a gradual warming followed by at least one additional cold spell. This initial warming period fools bald-faced hornets into believing that the cold of winter is over, leading them to establish new colonies. But the second cold snap kills off a large amount of these queens and their initial colonies, which helps to keep their population in check for the upcoming summer. Unfortunately, the virtual absence of these repeat cold spells over the past few years has resulted in much larger bald-faced hornet populations within Massachusetts. Some New England residents have claimed that wasp populations seem to be twice as prevalent during recent years than they were a decade ago, and one pest controller in the region claimed to be receiving more and more calls concerning wasps each year. This is especially troubling when considering the growing abundance of bald-faced hornet populations in the northeast, as these wasps are particularly skilled at surviving within urban areas. Bald-faced hornets are one of the most aggressive and largest bodied of all wasp species in the US, and they will not hesitate to attack humans if their nest should become disturbed. If you spot one of these wasps outdoors, then calmly make a beeline to the nearest indoor location.

Have you ever spotted a bald-faced hornet?