Ask the Steward
By Dan Ernst
Where do the hornets that build those big paper nests go in the winter time? Can I pick and bring the nest indoors?
Paper wasps, better known as ‘Baldfaced Hornets’ are actually a species of yellow-jacket. They are easily distinguished from other yellow jackets by their black and white, heavy body about three-quarter of an inch long. The paper nest begins in the spring by a single queen after she has overwintered underground, in a hollow tree or other protected area. Having been fertilized the previous year, she lays eggs and tends to the first batch of larvae, which develop into workers or drones. The workers continue to build the nest from chewed up wood. The football shaped nest sometimes includes colorful cardboard or even paper harvested by workers from different sources. The colony and nest expands and by summer’s end may consist of several hundred wasps. In late fall or early winter the colony shuts down, and fertilized queens leave the nest to overwinter in a protected area. The workers and drones die off and the nest is essentially abandoned, and picked apart by birds and other critters looking for food. While tempting and often done, bringing nests into the home can be a painful stinging experience. There are plenty of stories of abandoned nests coming to life after a good warming up in the house. Some advocate plastic bagging the abandoned nest, and letting it die off for an extended period of time outdoors or in a deep freeze. Let the nest warm, check for emerging live wasps, before opening the bag.
On a cold, but sunny January day I heard a loud crack in my woods- someone told me it was a tree frost cracking. Is this damaging?
There is nothing quite like the rifle shot sound of a ‘frost crack’ echoing through the woods on a warming winter day. This cracking most commonly occurs on cold, but sunny winter days. The warm sun heats the bark and wood directly under the bark causing them to expand. Meanwhile the wood deeper in the tree does not expand at the same rate and POW! The tree splits and frost cracking occurs- or reoccurs. Oddly enough the frost and cold does not initiate the initial tree cracking- this usually originates from an old tree wound or poorly healed branch stub. Once a crack occurs it may open and close several times during the year, or even heal over after many years of callus tissue growth. You may have noticed this in your woods. A frost crack appears as a long vertical seem- often on the south or southwest side of the tree- sometimes with a raised strip of callus or scar tissue along the seam. These cracks can allow an entry point for wood decaying fungi, but generally do not require any treatment in a wooded setting.
Dan Ernst is an Assistant State Forester with the Indiana Division of Forestry. He oversees the state forests in Indiana and has authored the “Ask the Steward” column for years. Have a question for the column? Email Dan at email@example.com.