Never underestimate the mysterious wonders of outdoor surprises steps away from home. We live a few miles from Asheville, North Carolina, in a house with frequent wildlife passersby visitors. There are so many roaming deer, wandering tortoises, slithering snakes, and  frequent flier birds and insects that they no longer make it into our phone photo collections. After relocating here several years ago, we believed we’d met all our animal and insect neighbors, until last July.

One morning during my dog’s daily walk along the cul-de-sac, I spied an odd object dangling from a cypress tree. Was it a balloon, a lantern, a drone? I stepped closer, faced the thing at eye-level, then froze at the symphonic buzzing sounds. Hornets were flitting in and out of a hole centered on the object: their nest. I skirted back, both fearful of getting stung and fascinated by the creatures surrounding it. How did I miss this before?

The next morning, I inched toward the nest, kept my dog by my side, and snapped a few cell phone pictures. Later that day, I searched the internet for information on the species I’d found, guessing it was some kind of wasp, hornet, or bee. Then my short list included bald-faced hornets and paper wasps — likely candidates based on the match between my photos and ones on the web. Later that week, I learned from neighbors that these nearby hornets were peaceful unless visitors got too close to their home. Throughout the summer, I continued to pause near the nest, marveling at the paper mache masterpiece and its feisty occupants.

As fall approached, I worried about the hornets’ fate. I’d read that once cold temperatures hit, a few will take shelter underground, but most die. I watched the nest’s slow disintegration due to wind, falling branches, or other natural forces. My emotions had transformed from fear into awe for this outdoor sculpture full of life for one summer season.

I don’t know if another one will appear next summer, but I’ve learned this: always stay awake for any surprise outside your door, even when you think you’ve seen them all.  

Want to learn more about hornets? Check out these great sites: 


“European Hornets.” NC State Extension. 
“Preserving and Displaying a Nest”. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. 



Written by Stacey Millett