Stirring up two hornets nests
“This came from a house in the Poconos,” the auctioneer said as the two assistants paraded in front of us with two gray football-shaped items stuck on separate sticks of wood. I had seen the sinister-looking items propped against a wall in a corner of the auction house and knew instantly that they were wasps nests.
“We assume there’s nothing in them,” the auctioneer joked.
Thank goodness there weren’t. These nests can each hold up to a thousand of more angry hornets that attack when provoked, and you would’ve seen a room full of grown men and women scattering and screaming to get out of there.
These two nests were obviously empty, and they seemed quite odd as auction items for sale, especially when you can just pluck them from a tree for free. I shouldn’t have been too surprised because I never know what’s going to turn up at these places. Interestingly, a year ago I had come across a wicker basket in the shape of a big wasp at another auction house.
Seeing the nests got me to wondering who in the heck had retrieved them and why they had kept them. It never occurred to me that the nests could be used for decoration until I started researching them.
There was nothing flashy or decorative about these: They were concrete gray and papery, looked to be around 10 inches long, wide around the middle and attached haphazardly on two sticks. You’d need a lot of imagination to use them in a way that was more creative than plopping them in a corner of your living room.
One site described the look of a hornet’s nest as an upside-down teardrop, which I found to be apt.
If you’re so inclined to use a wasp nest as decoration, this website offered some advice on how to do that, along with how to preserve it: Collect it in the fall. If it has some dead hornets inside, leave it outside for awhile. No need to varnish it.
When I first approached the nests at the auction house, I didn’t recognize them as hornets nests. I learned that baldfaced hornets were one of three types of wasps that we humans normally meet up with face to face. The others were yellowjackets and paper wasps.
A couple years ago, a small family of wasps – yellowjackets, I believe, because they tend to burrow – set up house in a hole in the wood frame of my garage door. I sprayed them into oblivion and closed the hole. Last summer, paper wasps set up house on the edge of the frame of a friend’s garage. She was timid and scared, so I sprayed the cone nest and we watched as it disintegrated along with the offsprings growing inside.
Most of the listings in Google offered ways to get rid of the nests, not decorate with them.
The nests at auction stirred up some childhood memories for me. I grew up in a rural area and wasps were a fact of life, especially yellowjackets. My favorite blackberries grew wild and rampant around us, and when we went out picking them as children we were always on the lookout for yellowjackets, which seemed to always be around. Going into an old building meant that you looked up and not down to make sure no wasp nest was lurking overhead.
I don’t recall seeing hornets nests very often. Those pests, which look a little like yellowjackets, are said to be the orneriest of the group. The female starts setting up house in the spring, gathering small pieces of wood, and chewing it up with her saliva to make wood pulp to architecturally fashion the nest into a sturdy round structure.
She’s joined later by worker wasps, who die off in the fall and leave the fertilized female ready to colonize next year. The nest – with an opening at the bottom – hangs from trees, eaves, branches and other structures through the summer.
The owner of the ones at auction had likely taken them from trees in the Pocono Mountains region of northeastern Pennsylvania where he or she may have lived. The area is known for its excellent skiing, but I’m sure wasps have their places there, too. In the summer, though. Photo of hornet above is by Nigel Jones.
At auction, I was eager to see who’d snap up the nests, but the auctioneer had a hard time getting any takers. That was too bad, because I found out that these things can bring in big bucks.
On eBay, a hornets nest described to be as large as a five-gallon pail sold for $230. Another sized 34″ x 15″ sold for $152, and several others sold for more than $100. And they got not one but multiple bids.
At the auction, the two nests went for only $5 for both. Lucky buyer.