Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Return of the Queen

She's baaaaaaack! Well, not the same "she," of course, but I don't see any difference between the hornet queen of 2011 and her predecessors from whom I have learned a wary respect for all their kind.

Most likely she was born and raised in last year's nest under the towering Deodar Cedar in the front yard. After her mating flight in the fall she, and other fertile females, found a safe place to wait out the winter months, each in their lonely hideaway. These future queens were the only survivors from the teeming hornet metropolis dug into the sheltering roots of the big tree.

All summer long I could watch the busy comings and goings from a safe vantage point in the driveway, grateful that the nest was in a protected place where I would not stumble upon it -- unlike previous years. For instance, there was the year the nest was behind the living room wall, with buzzing hornets slowly chewing their way into the house. When we saw little feelers waving around next to the light fixture there was no choice but to call for help. We were rescued by a knight in grungy coveralls from Luck of the Irish Bee Service, who did noble battle for the better part of a day. That year the nest met an early demise but the species was unaffected because they were back again in fine form the following spring.

Now that it's spring again, here is a new queen foraging for food on her own. As yet, there is no crowd of loyal hornet subjects to meet her every need. She has to build the first small nest herself, chewing up wood into paper mache to make sculpted cells for holding larvae and graceful curving walls to keep everything together. And until the worker hornets hatch out she has to do the grocery shopping too.

She will eat nectar herself, I believe, and catch bugs for the hungry larvae back home. If the link below works, you can hear the sound that hungry larvae make scratching on the sides of their cells (a little creepy but also kind of thrilling):

This link goes to the main Web site with everything you ever wanted to know about hornets but were afraid to ask:

Hornets are great for the garden because they catch so many insects. In Europe, the European hornet is a protected species. So I am very glad to see the return of the queen. I just need to know where that nest is!

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