Bald-faced Hornets

Need to know

  • Bald-faced hornets are a species in the yellowjacket family. 
  • Like other social wasps, they live in a colony; one that is constructed on paper-like material from chewed wood fibers. 
  • The peak worker population is 100 to 400 hornets by the end of the summer. In the fall, males and new queens are produced.
  • They can be aggressive only if their home is threatened.  Nest in high-traffic areas can be managed by insecticide spray.

Description of bald-faced hornets

Bald-faced hornets are not true hornets, but rather a species in the yellowjacket family. There are efforts by some specialists to emphasize the family connection to yellowjackets by renaming the bald-faced hornet as the "bald-faced aerial yellowjacket."  For now, we are sticking with the name bald-faced hornet for consistency.

Bald-faced hornets live in colonies similar to those of honey bees and ants. The colony is contained inside the nest constructed of paper-like material made from chewed wood fibers mixed with saliva. The nest is composed of three or four tiers of combs within a thick, multilayered outer shell. A single opening at the bottom allows the hornets to fly in and out. Bald-faced hornet nests are usually located in wooded areas, attached to a tree branch, but may be attached to shrubs, utility poles or house siding.

Image of baldfaced hornets nest
Baldfaced hornets nest.

Life cycle of bald-faced hornets

Bald-faced hornets are large, black insects about 7/8 of an inch long with white to cream-colored markings on the front of the head and at the end of the abdomen. Like all wasps, bees, and ants, hornets have a complete life cycle of four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The larva is a legless grub reared within cells in the nest. Hornets are beneficial predators that feed on other insects, particularly filth flies and blowflies.

A colony of social wasps (hornets, yellowjackets and paper wasps) lasts only 1 year. Each nest is built from scratch each year and the previous year's nest can not be reused. Queens are the only members of the colony able to survive the winter. In April or May, each queen selects a suitable location, constructs a small nest, and begins raising sterile daughter offspring. These workers take over the duties of enlarging and maintaining the nest, foraging for food and caring for the offspring while the queen functions only to produce more eggs.

At first, colony growth is slow, but growth increases rapidly by mid-summer as successive broods of workers emerge. The peak worker population is 100 to 400 hornets by the end of the summer. In the fall, males and new queens are produced. These leave the nest to mate, and the fertilized queens hibernate. The remainder of the workers, the old queen, and the males die of old age or freezing temperatures.

Damage caused by bald-faced hornets

The size of a hornet's nest and the hornets' reputation is often sufficient to alarm people. Fortunately, the aggressiveness of hornets does not match their appearance, although disturbing a nest or threatening an individual wasp will result in stings. Hornets are very protective of their colony and will usually attack if someone approaches within 3 feet of the nest. A nest located in a "high traffic" area such as along walks or near doorways justifies control to reduce the threat of being stung. Nests away from human activity should be left undisturbed.

Management of bald-faced hornets

Bald-faced hornet colonies are relatively easy to control using an insecticide aerosol spray specifically designed for this purpose. A special nozzle and propellant system spray a thin stream of insecticide up to 20 feet.

Colonies should be exterminated at night, if possible when workers are least active and the maximum number is at the nest. Safety precautions include protective clothing such as a thick jacket, long pants tucked into socks, gloves, and a hat.

Spray into the entrance hole at first and then thoroughly wet the nest. Do not remove the nest until all wasps are dead. This may take a day or two as some foraging workers may not have been in the nest at the time of treatment. Follow all labeled directions on the insecticide.


If you are interested in saving a hornets' nest as a decoration or conversation piece see the on-line article, "Preserving and Displaying a Hornet's Nest."


Do you live in Iowa and have an insect you would like identified?

The Iowa State University Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic will identify your insect, provide information on what it eats, life cycle, and if it is a pest the best ways to manage them.  Please see our website for current forms, fees, and instructions on preserving and mailing insects.   

Contact information for each state's diagnostic laboratory for U.S. residents.  If you live outside of Iowa please do not submit a sample without contacting the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic.  

Last reviewed:
December 2021

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on September 12, 2016. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.