This month Leonard and I were walking at Little Lavas near Modoc National Forest Road 56 (Modoc County CA) when we came across a underground nest dug up by some animal. The papery combs were scattered around the underground hive entrance.
This nest probably was built by yellowjackets belonging to the Vespula genus. Yellowjackets in this genus are social and form large underground nests that can contain up to 5,000 individuals and be as large as a soccer ball. (Underground nesting bumble bees are usually solitary or form small colonies while underground bees construct wax combs.) The yellowjacket nest is usually built in the abandoned burrow of a snake or small mammal. As the colony expands the yellowjackets enlarge the original burrow. The hive consists of multiple horizontal tiers of combs constructed from wood fibers chewed into a papery pulp.
Large animals including bears, raccoons, skunks, weasels and badgers, as well as smaller moles and shrews prey, on underground yellowjacket nests in our area and eat the larvae and nymphs. Wolverines and armadillos, which do not occur here, also include yellowjackets in their diet. Because of the way the nest was excavated and knowing the common wildlife near Little Lavas, we believe a skunk may be the culprit which destroyed this nest. Yellowjacket colonies are annual with only the queens overwintering. Since it was so late in the year, Leonard and I feel the intruder probably did not get much of a meal for its efforts.
More information about Vespula yellowjackets may be found in a previous post: “Western Yellowjacket” on 10-13-14.