Country & Garden: Nature Notes

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The Independent Culture
HORNETS LEAD strange lives. At this time of year each nest will contain a queen and the season's offspring. The workers toiling in and out to bring the colony food are more of the queen's daughters, born earlier in the summer, and all sterile. Their existence seems pathetically short - three weeks at most.

In October young queens and males leave the nests and, after suitable partners have mated, the new queens seek out places in which to hibernate for the winter - niches in walls, or under the bark of trees. The old queen remains in the nest and dies there, surrounded by a few faithful workers - for, unlike bees, hornets have no system of storing food.

During the winter some of the hibernating queens are eaten by foraging shrews; but in spring those that survive wake up and become highly aggressive. Many are stung to death as they battle for supremacy in mid-air combat. Maybe only one in 100 succeeds in raising a colony of her own.

Hornets are much maligned. Their reputation for being dangerous is quite undeserved, for although they are equipped by nature to fight each other for survival, they are otherwise pacific creatures, and rarely attack humans unless provoked.