What Do Hornets Do in the Winter? How Hornets Deal with the Cold

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During winter, we take out the thickest coats, sip hot coco inside or even go out and enjoy ski trips and snowball fights. But what about the bugs? What do they do during the snowy season? And how about those hornets? What do hornets do in the winter?

You may think that all insects die in the winter. But surprisingly, a lot of these little creatures have tricks to survive the icy months. And for hornets, here’s what they do.

What Do Hornets Do in the Winter? How Hornets Deal with the Cold

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Hornets have a system that allows their kind to survive through the harshest season of the year. CC Image courtesy of Aconcagua on Wikipedia

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Male hornets fertilize new queens before winter

It’s safe to say that when winter comes, the first to die are the male hornets.

These hornets have only one major duty, and that is to mate with the queen-to-bes and fertilize them. And while it’s a fact that they die right after this, most of them do it late in the fall or right before winter comes. So when the temperature starts to drop fast, the male hornets dwindle in numbers because they have served their purpose.

Nests are abandoned or they just die off

While the males are mostly gone, there are two things that can happen to the nest.

For some hornet species, the remaining members of the colony will abandon their nest and look for safer and warmer places hide in, even though they won’t survive winter because they aren’t biologically built for it.

For other hornets, they too die. But they do it inside their nest. All the members of the colony, including the old queen, die just a few weeks after the new queens get fertilized. They retreat inside their nest until they succumb to the cold.

Whatever the case, one thing is the same for all these hornets. The young and newly fertilized queens fly off into more secure places, carrying the eggs that can start new colonies when spring eventually comes.

The new queens hibernate

Only the new queens have the ability to hibernate. So, they’re the only ones that can survive through winter.

When the icy season is just around the corner, the fertilized new queens look for warm and protected places to slow down their metabolism and enter a hibernation stage. They often stay inside rock crevices, sheds, hollow trees, attics, abandoned house, barns or burrows.

When spring comes, they wake up from their “sleep” and look for a new place to start another colony. They mostly never go back to their old ones.

Every wasp species has a different way of living, but most of them show a similar behavioral pattern when it comes to winter. Their hope lies in their new queens, to carry and start a whole new generation of hornets when their surroundings start to thaw.

So when you come across a nest in the middle of winter, remember that that nest is going to be empty, and it will be safe to take it down. However, this doesn’t mean that those hornets are not coming back… because what do hornets do in the winter? They survive!