Around the Studios

An occasional column describing things around the Studios, which are situated in the heart of Devon's rich rolling countryside.

Photo of the hornets nest at Black Dog Studios A partially completed hornets' nest

Another hoto of the hornets nest at Black Dog Studios The hornets' nest fallen down.
10" x 11" (26cm x 28cm)

Photo of a hornet
A hornet feasts on fallen fruit. The giant wasps are peaceful, reluctant to sting and not as dangerous as a bee if they do.


Most years, but not always, a queen hornet will build a nest in the old part of the main loft in the main building. These magnificent, large, social wasps are truly impressive creatures. They are very distinctive in character and have a definite "don't mess with me" appearance! Having said that, we have found them fascinating. The female may be 25 - 35mm long, the male, a little smaller. The only time they are a nuisance is at night, when a window may be left open near their flight path and they become disorientated by the light. Even so, they can usually be picked up in a drinking glass, sliding a thin glass to cover the opening and then released outside, well away from the window. The photo shows the 2006 nest, just at the stage when it was becoming really established. One can get quite close to it and be intrigued by the rustling sound, as work goes on unceasingly.

Disaster Strikes the Colony

The nest must have become too heavy and fallen down. For a few days, not surprisingly, the occupants and the outworkers were extremely agitated. After a few days more, stability had returned and the colony recovered and went on constructing the nest, which grew to an incredible 10" x 11" (26cm x 28cm). Eventually, by late autumn, as is the norm, all the colony had died out, except for a few young queens, who may survive the winter. As W.H. Hudson wrote of hornets in Hampshire Days in 1903,

"These large sized October hornets are all females, wandererd from ruined homes in search of sheltered places, where, foodless and homeless, each may live through the four dreary months to come".
Queens reduce their metabolism to the lowest possible level, even producing their own glycerol which acts as antifreeze.

Hornets kill insects for food, both for their queen and the larvae, so a large colony of several hundred will destroy thousands of insects every day. The hornet (Vespra crabro) is the largest British wasp, but is now relatively rare, unless you live in favoured parts of Southern England. This is possibly because of persecution and the loss of old trees in which they like to nest. Common wasps seldom fly at night but hornets have the ability to fly in almost pitch blackness.

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