Northland Nature: Sharing an apple with hornets

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at

A yellowjacket hornet feeds on a fresh apple. (Photo by Larry Weber)

The first week of October is a delightful time in the Northland. Trees that gave us a colorful foliage show for September continue even though many of them are dropping their leaves.

The bulk of the leaf drop is still about two weeks away, but looking out on the yard and driveway, we see that much is happening already. While walking now, it is hard to not pause to observe the reds and yellows that hang onto branches before they exit.

I find that the abundant quaking aspens exhibit their greatest colors at this time. After hanging on the tree for two years, acorns of red oaks are regularly dropping. Sugar maple seeds (samaras) are twirling down. Highbush cranberries, hawthorns and crab apples are decorated with mature fruits and showing more reds. And many of our apples are ripe as we enter October.

Besides seeing the trees, we note so much more. In the woods, mushrooms are lingering from the huge growth that we saw in September. The late wild flowers of goldenrods, asters and sunflowers have mostly faded, but I still see some hardy blossoms along the roadsides.

Bird migration remains very active. Among the raptors, we daily see sharp-shinned hawks, red-tailed hawks, harriers, bald eagles and turkey vultures. Canada geese announce their presence as they pass over. Flocks of blue jays are also loud during their southbound flight, while mixed groups of warblers and sparrows are also moving.


Whether at Hawk Ridge, along walks or in our yards, the avian migrants are all around us. Shorter autumn days are also getting a bit more chill.

This cooling is still not enough to stop the local insects. Recently, as I walked past some lingering blooming goldenrods, I stopped to watch bumble bees actively feeding here. Nearby were flower flies and syrphid flies. These insects with various stripes on their bodies are sometimes referred to as bee mimics. Grasshoppers, locusts and crickets have not yet succumbed to the coming frosts.

Also, the small red meadowhawk dragonflies and sulphur butterflies are active. Other butterflies, mostly anglewings, are now feeding in preparation for their hibernation throughout the cold. And there are the hornets.

A few days ago, as I sat on the deck enjoying the day and a fresh apple, I noticed that I was sharing this apple with a yellowjacket hornet. Not wanting to include insect protein in my snack, I broke off a piece and left it for the hungry hornet. Soon, others came by, too. Completely oblivious of me, they devoured the fleshy apple. That’s OK; there is plenty to go around.

It seems like this is the time of year that we notice their nests the most. Bald-faced and yellowjacket hornets have been living in their large football-shaped structures for most of the summer. While the former is in trees, the latter are more likely on the ground.

Hidden among the foliage, we maybe did not notice them until the fall changes. By this time, the hornet nests, used for raicolonies, are vacant. The queens are the only ones to survive winter. She does so by going under logs or rocks and becoming dormant.

Workers that fed and raised the young now disperse. Before slowed by the frosts, they will feed themselves. They seem to have a taste for fruit juices, especially apples. Anyone picking apples on mild October days is likely to have hornets for company. Their lives are waning and so I let them have what they want. There are many apples on this tree.


Larry Weber
Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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