The unseasonally warm October weather may have finally cooled of late but that wasn't stopping these hornets (Vespa crabro) up in the wood last week. They won't be around much longer but for the time being this balmy (barmy?) weather means there are still plenty of insects around to enjoy:
|hornets attending a papery nest in an old willow|
Hornets are social wasps, meaning they form colonies around a fertile queen. Within the colony, wasps undertake certain roles; that hornet at the entrance to the nest is most likely a 'guard' wasp - protecting the nest from intruders day in day out. How the colony or rather the insects themselves have evolved this level of coordination is remarkable.
You can tell a hornet from more common wasp species by its size and colouration - they're bigger with brown/yellow markings rather than black/yellow ones. Although this makes them appear fearsome they are actually relatively shy insects preferring quiet woodland glades rather than noisy back gardens. I was annoyed to hear of a recent case in a London park where a nest was reportedly ripped out on grounds of 'health and safety'. I suppose it's a grey area but education is undoubtedly the answer. Sure if you disturb a hornet's nest you're probably going to know about it, but generally their intentions are misunderstood. As top predators they'd much rather be hunting other insects such as wasps and flies. Watching these hornets at a respectful distance, they weren't remotely threatening, it was peaceful even. Something to look out for next spring.