The Hornet’s Nest

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The mid-July afternoon sun was hot as Dana, and I headed across the lower field of the Broadbent farm. We were headed to a fishing hole we didn’t often fish because of the brush.

Suddenly, Dana stopped.

“Wow!” he said. “Look at that bee’s nest.”

On the highway side of the field, there was a massive nest hanging in a large arrow wood bush. It must have been a couple of feet in diameter and over two feet long.

We went closer to get a better view.

“Those are black hornets,” I said.

“Dad calls them bald-faced hornets,” Dana said. “He says their sting is nasty.”

We watched the nest for a time. The hornets were coming in and going out at a constant pace.

“Let’s get a bow and arrow and see if we can stir them up,” I said. “We could probably shoot an arrow through that nest from the highway, and they won’t know where it came from if we don’t move.”

So we abandoned the fishing venture and headed back to the house to get my bow and arrows.

“What are you two going to do now?” Mom asked.

“We found a big hornet’s nest down in the lower field,” I said. “We will see if we can stir them up a bit.”

“They are bald-faced hornets,” Dana said. “I’ve never seen a nest like this before.”

“You guys be careful,” Mom cautioned. “Those things sting pretty hard.”

We walked down the highway and found a spot with a clear view of the nest from the road.

“Do you want to take a shot?” I asked Dana.

“No, go ahead,” Dana said. “I don’t want to be holding the bow if they spot us.” 

“I don’t think it would matter,” I said. “They won’t be looking for someone with a bow. I think we will be fine if we just stand still.”

I notched an arrow and took careful aim. I released the arrow, and it made a perfect strike, passing through the middle of the nest.

There was an instant swarm of black hornets coming from the nest. The numbers almost blocked the view of the nest. We stood stark still, and no hornets came toward the highway.

After a few minutes, the hornets quieted and returned to the nest and their other duties.

“Now, I’ll take a shot,” Dana said as he took the bow from my hand.

Dana’s arrow struck the nest a bit higher than mine had, but the result was the same. A massive swarm of hornets, but when they found no culprit, they returned to the nest after a few minutes.

Back at the house, we made plans to take the nest to school.

“We should cut that nest out of that bush and take it to school,” Dana said.

“If you want to do that, you need to wait until winter when those hornets are all dead or dormant,” Mom said.

So that was the plan. We continued to torment the hornets from time to time through the rest of the summer.

***

“I can come down this Saturday, and we can cut the hornet’s nest down,” Dana said.

It was middle October, and there had been a frost. The hornets were surely dead by now.

When we got to the base of the bush with the nest, we watched it for a couple of minutes to ensure there was no activity around it.

“It’s pretty high,” Dana said. “I guess we can cut the main branch at the ground, and you can catch the nest, so it doesn’t break when it hits the ground.”

“Dad says when the hornets build their nest high, it means there will be a hard winter,” I said. “That probably means we will have some high water or snow this year.”

We found the main branch of the arrow wood bush that held the nest, and Dana made a whack with his hatchet. The limb was not completely severed, but it allowed the nest slowly swing toward the ground. I gathered the top branches in my arms, and Dana clipped the nest free with some pruning shears. We headed back to the house, holding the nest between us, suspended from the branch it was built on.

“Can you take me to school with this nest on Monday?” I asked Mom.

“Yes, I will have the car. I can take you,” Mom said. “We can follow the school bus, that way, Dana can help you pack it into the school.”

***

Everyone was impressed when Dana and I packed the nest into the classroom. Seeing a nest of this size was unusual, and most of the kids had probably never seen one like it.

“Okay, that’s enough of the looking. Let’s find a place in the science room for it,” Mr. Jimenez said.

The science room was just a closet in the corner of this shared seventh and eighth-grade classroom at Broadbent school. There was an empty spot on the shelf where the nest fit well.

The nest was at rest in the science room, removed from the disruption of the classroom, and soon, all but forgotten.

It was not long until we had a stretch of several days of bright sunshine and warm temperatures, typical of October in western Oregon.

“What is that sound that I keep hearing,” Mr. Jimenez said as he walked around the classroom, trying to define the source of this buzzing sound that had suddenly occurred.

“I think it is coming from the science room,” Joe said.

Mr. Jimenez opened the science closet door and met with several dozen hornets. He immediately slammed the door shut.

“I think we need to keep this door closed for today,” Mr. Jimenez said.

“Now, what are we going to do to get those out of here?” Gail asked.

“I thought they were all dead,” I said. “What do you think happened.”

“There were probably some still alive and just immobile due to the cold, or maybe some were still to hatch,” Mr. Jimenez said. “We probably should have put it in a freezer for a couple of weeks before putting it in the science room. That would have killed any hornets still alive and also any of the larvae.”

“I guess we better get some DDT,” Dana said.

“We will wait until tonight, and then the janitor can remove the nest and get rid of it,” Mr. Jimenez said.

“Maybe he can find a freezer to put it in,” I said.

“I think it is more likely that he will pour some gas on it and burn it up,” Mr. Jimenez.

That was that, and the nest was never mentioned again. It obviously had been destroyed instead of saved for future learning.

Photo by Public Domain Images from Pixabay.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

4 thoughts on “The Hornet’s Nest

  1. When I was young I was fortunate to have a safer way of observing hornets at work. An aunt and uncle lived in a rural area near a big state forest. The uncle, a professional gardener, enjoyed nature photography and walks in the woods, and was good with children, teaching them things about plant and animal life. One year, hornets built a large paper nest right on the glass of one of the living room windows, and we were all able to watch the internal workings of hornet society from the safety of the other side of the window. They let the hornets live there all summer. It was better than TV.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. We had TV but I never got into watching it, as my grandparents were very wary of letting a young child use it without supervision. It was Sesame street (and only short before I went to school anyway) for me and nothing else. I got into books instead.

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: