I lifted the trapdoor into the loft of our pigeonnier with infinite care. On the ceiling, right over my head were the unmistakable signs of very unwanted summer visitors, accompanied by a tell-tale buzzing. I shut the trapdoor fast and descended the perpendicular ladder like a bat out of somewhere. They were back. Hornets.
Plus ça change
Just when you think you’ve got the seasonal hazards under control, along comes another one. In 2009, we discovered a very large hornet’s nest in the same place. We called in a specialist who duly exterminated them and removed the nest. But, over six years, we’ve become a bit complacent and forget to check for them regularly.
When hornets (frelons in French) clustered around an outside light recently, I wondered if we had a nest. But it didn’t occur to me to check the attic until last Friday, when they were already well on the way to constructing an architectural masterpiece near where we sleep.
Finding qualified help
So, how do you deal with a hornet’s nest? Do not try to remove it yourself, especially if it is already well established. They will certainly attack you, and that could be fatal.
Instead, call in an expert. How do you find one? This has become less easy than it was. Six years ago I phoned the pompiers (fire brigade). They put me onto a recorded message with the phone numbers of companies in the region that deal with hornets.
But, for reasons that I am unable to fathom, the pompiers are no longer allowed to do this. So you are reduced to asking around, looking in the phone book or hoping that the person who did it several years ago is still in business.
Luckily for us, he is. Even more luckily, we had retained his invoice with all the contact details. He comes all the way from the former mining town of Décazeville in Aveyron, about 1 ½ hours’ drive away.
“Tomorrow I’m in Toulouse,” he said. “Then I have to go to Lot-et-Garonne and then return to Décazeville via Cahors.”
After a quick recce, he donned a sort of space suit and disappeared into the attic with a murderous-looking spray-gun. Fifteen minutes later, he re-emerged with the remains of the nest in a plastic bag. He reckoned it was about a month old.
I asked if I could take some photos and he obligingly opened the bag. He removed the dead queen and one of the worker hornets so I could snap them. He also showed us the hornet larvae, already laid in the nest.
“You could eat those with an aperitif,” he quipped.
“It’s a bad year for wasps and hornets,” he continued. “It’s been dry and hot. Last week I had 29 call-outs for hornet’s nests.”
We did a quick calculation. He charged us what we thought was a very reasonable €90. So a week’s work adds up to around €2,700.
We agreed, though, that it is a shame to destroy these creatures. They have their place in the ecological system. They even eat mosquitoes, according to our expert, which raised them in my estimation. Contrary to popular belief, they do not kill honey bees. The Asian variety now spreading across Europe is responsible for that. But you don’t want hornets of any variety in your house.
Here are some hornet tips:
- Act before they have a chance to establish a nest. If you have an attic or any undisturbed space, check on it at least once a week during the summer months.
- If they are building a nest, don’t try to eliminate it yourself. When threatened, they can be very aggressive.
- Call in an expert. Phone book (under “Nids de guêpes, frelons” or “désinsectisation”) or word of mouth are the usual routes. Or ask at your local mairie or quincaillerie (ironmonger), where they are likely to know of local experts.
- Don’t assume that dealing with hornets guarantees they won’t come back. The product the experts use lasts about six-seven weeks. Keep checking that the hornets have not returned.
Finally, the hornets we had were indigenous. The Asian variety is smaller and black. And they can be deadly. So don’t mess with those. Call in the professionals.
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