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This photo shows a large portion of my personal collection of GIANT nests. To give you a good idea regarding how large these nests are, the dissected D. maculata (bald-faced "hornet") nest which is hanging from the ceiling in front of the shades is 2 feet (24 inches) tall and the set of V. squamosa (Southern yellowjacket) combs on the bottom shelf is 3 feet (36 inches) long!!! What you see are mostly D. maculata nests (mixed with the nests of various other species). Enjoy! :o)

Images of this individual: tag all


I believe we've corresponded in the past. I was wondering if you've had any success excavating Vespula nests from the ground, or is the paper they make typically too brittle? I see you have some very impressive V. squamosa nests that were attached to a house, maybe making them easier to collect?

Also, do you scout for active nests to collect when the season is over?

Hello, Ben.
Here are some interesting facts for you: Not all Vespula species construct nests which are made out of the brittle, tan/brown colored carton. There are some Vespula species which typically build grey, durable nests. Two species which build brittle nests are V. vulgaris and V. maculifrons. Two species which build durable nests are V. squamosa and V. germanica. So, it depends on the type of nest which you are going after when you are extracting one from the ground whether or not it falls apart on you. Of course, the grey Vespula nests are more sturdy than the tan/brown Vespula nests.

Actually, most of the nests in my collection were collected for me and sent to me from various people across this country. Unforunately, Tulsa is not exactly a "hot spot" for a wide variety of social wasps... namely Dolichovespula species! I live on the edge of D. maculata's range. I've never seen D. maculata in Tulsa during all the years I've lived here. However, there are various Polistes species which I DO see here fairly often. The most common one in my immediate area seems to be P. exclamans which often builds nests beneath the eaves of this two-story apartment complex which I am currently living in. I locate any active P. exclamans nests around here during the spring, monitor them throughout the summer, and collect them using my extension pole (with scraper attachment) during the late fall/early winter when the nests are abandoned. My largest P. exclamans nest (from last year) which I've personally collected measures 5 inches across. I currently have my eyes on a particularly large P. exclamans nest this year (I can't wait to collect it!).

Yeah, I do remember that, though it's been a while since I read about the differences. A pity that V. maculifrons nests are fragile, because they're lovely. Been locating active ground nests of late just for kicks. I found 4 V. maculifrons nests yesterday afternoon, including one that was partially dug up, possibly by a skunk. I love the brownish, banded appearance. Wanna see how many I can find, and figure out density. V. flavopilosa and V. vidua are also options at the site. D. arenaria reproductives are out on the goldenrod in full force.

I forgot to mention...
You CAN dig up the brittle type of Vespula nests. Despite the fact that the envelope will most likely fall apart during the extraction process, you CAN still take the combs pretty much whole. I currently have a mature V. maculifrons nest in my collection which was taken from inside a wall and it has most of its envelope missing. Nonetheless, this beautiful nest displays well because its combs are all intact and undamaged (I especially like the fact that this nest clearly shows the difference between the worker combs with the smaller cells and the queen combs with the larger cells.)!

By the way, if you think V. maculifrons nests are beautiful, then you should DEFINITELY check out some V. vulgaris nests. The nests of this species are absolutely breathtakingly beautiful with the swirls and the scalloped texture of the envelope!

How do you go about locating so many nests in such a short period of time?

One more thing... I might be interested in possibly receiving one or two of your nests if they are large (I'd be especially interested in any D. arenaria nests which you find!). Of course, I will pay for shipping.

actual results may vary
For success, you want a decent chunk of relatively unfragmented forest. Then you need to develop a search image for what a yellowjacket entrance looks like. An entrance hole of a large colony has constant traffic entering and exiting the nest burrow. In the woods, it's easiest to see this highway of sorts if the wasps are flying through rays of sunlight reaching the forest floor. If you walk carefully through the woods, and focus only on insects flying up from or down to the same spot at ground level, you can locate colonies fairly easily. If it's shady, or cloudy, these are much more difficult to see (but not impossible).

I've found that Vespula maculifrons nests tend to be in higher, drier microhabitats with lots of leaf litter and little understory vegetation, with the nest entrance almost invariably next to a fallen branch or a log. Three of the four mentioned above were in this situation, while the fourth was under the roots of a stump, underground. This was the one that was unsuccessfully excavated by an unknown critter. I'd be interested to see if the wasps seal up the now gaping hole with envelope. Unfortunately, these were located in a public greenway belt, so excavation is not an option. Will keep an eye out for others.

Now I feel obligated to say that this isn't something that I would recommend for anyone to try. Remember that these wasps CAN be dangerous if disturbed (most especially nests full of hundreds of insects), and you need to fully understand their behavior and the risks involved before doing this. Terry and I have been for a very long time, and know how to act around nests. Try to stay out of the flight path of wasps flying in or out of the nest. Sudden movements are a very bad idea, and greatly increase your chances of being stung. Yellowjackets are nervous insects, and the more you thrash around, the more aroused they'll become. If you're calm and slow, you should be fine. Don't do anything stupid. These wasps are important predators on caterpillars, flies, etc. and a single large colony destroys thousands of these every day, so leave them in peace, unless they are in an immediately hazardous situation.

One more thing...
Thank you very much for keeping an eye out for any large nests (Dolichovespula, Vespula, Polistes) which you will be able to collect for me. It is a pity that the nests which you are aware of now are located in a public greenway belt.

more nests
Found another maculifrons and a flavopilosa nest today.

Thank you very much for keeping me posted.

So, are your most recent finds located in a public greenway belt as well or will you be able to collect them when the nests are abandoned?

By the way, do you find D. arenaria nests very often? If so, do you find them attached to vegetation or buildings more often? Also, how large do they typically reach in your area?

same site
It depends. I see a few per year I suppose, but I don't go looking for them. Mostly attached to buildings, but this is probably just due to difficulty finding them in trees. Then can be decent sized, but they're probably smaller since this is farther north and the season is shorter.

You will be surprised
when I tell you that two of my largest D. maculata nests actually came from Pennsylvania. Here ya go:

It seems that the short season in your state didn't have much of an effect on these monster nests at least! LOL!!! :o) If you don't go looking for Dolichovespula nests, then you could be missing out on some giant nests.

Thanks for letting me know about the details regarding the D. arenaria nests.

I sincerely appreciate the info.
I am gonna have to use your search technique the next time I am in a forest. It seems that you have great success with it. This is awesome! I hope that you will be able to find lots more nests in the future. I think it is also great that you are sharing your technique here because other people who are interested will be able to read your post and also learn the "tricks of the trade", so to speak. Thanks again for sharing this with me, Ben.

It is good that you are warning people regarding the risks of being near active nests (and also teaching about the benefits which wasps give). I've made similar warnings in my posts here:

Pretty awesome.
Nice collection! I do wonder if you have problems with dermestid beetle infestations. I had that problem simply with a few large Polistes nests that I eventually had to discard simply to protect my insect collection.

Thank you.
Actually, I DO sometimes have problems with beetle infestations. The beetles are tiny and they fly well. I think they might be carpet beetles. Anyway, to deal with the beetles, I bomb my apartment with those insecticide foggers. In between bombings, I place the nests inside my freezer overnight (Well, the nests which are small enough to fit inside my freezer!). Speaking from personal experience, these methods work VERY WELL in dealing with these pest beetles! So, this is what you could have done to treat your large Polistes nests (By the way, how big were they and what species?). Now you will know what to do if you obtain more nests for your collection in the future.

Speaking of Polistes nests, I have a HUGE P. annularis nest which is literally the size of a dinner plate (12 inches across)! You can see this monster on the BugGuide website. In fact, if you are interested in doing so, you can see all the amazing photos which I've added to BugGuide by clicking on my name to access the "Images submitted by..." link. I hope that you enjoy what I've contributed so far! :o)

Please keep checking back because I am planning on adding more nest photos from time to time (as I obtain more nests for my personal collection). Thanks again, Eric!

Weird nests
I found a D. maculata nest that was built sideways on a tree limb! It is on a sturdy limb that did not break during the life of the nest changing the angle. I have never seen or heard of a nest with all the cones facing to one side instead of down???? I have photos of it in the tree. I also have a D. maculata nest built in the middle of a windowpane. I have never seen or heard of that before. I have seen one in the corner of a windowpane connected to the wooden windowframe. In both nests, there is an additional weird fact--they both only have one cone. The guy was replacing the window, so he let me have it, with the nest still firmly on it. It looks like they reused several worker cells extending them to queen-size. Weird!! I also have a wonderful photo of a nest that blew out of a tree, was attacked by a dog (face badly swollen), and the single cone left was repaired and lived in by D. maculata workers. The photo shows five workers, including one with her face sticking out of the makeshift new entrance hole. I have this unique nest.
Then I have one with a flap hanging down. I think the wind blew it and the D. maculata workers kept it repaired as if it was meant to be part of the nest. I have never seen one like it. I have great photos of it in a white pine tree and I have the nest.
I also have a photo of a nest that has a top and a bottom, but almost no center--maybe two inches worth on one side. This nest had workers in it, so I didn't collect it and when I returned three weeks later it was gone. Mike Riter

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