A very large Vespa bicolor nest, the biggest I have ever seen, located in some shrubs behind a bus stop, right in the heart of an urban residential estate! The noise from traffic on the road just in front of the bush can be heard clearly, and people constantly walk by - I had to grab the opportunity to sneak into the bush to avoid being seen by passers-by, for fear that people would wonder what I was doing and come over to look, and once inside, even after finishing photographing and taking videos of the nest, I had to wait nearly 50 minutes in an uncomfortable position just next to the nest, before there was a period where no-one was around and I could quickly slip out of the bush! But the nest is quite well-hidden; it was only because of my years of experience that I noticed a flight path and found the nest! Despite its proximity to the many apartment buildings and constant stream of people, it has never been disturbed (in any case, it would never have grown to this size without being destroyed if it had caused any problems)! The video is shaky because of my uncomfortable position - once I squeezed myself into the bushes, I had to lie flat, prone on the ground, and take this video with one hand and being unable to stabilize it!
I wonder how this nest could have reached such an exceptional size. Possibly, lack of competitors and a ready source of food were important factors. I grew up in this particular estate long ago, and from past experience Vespa bicolor is the only common hornet there. Even common species like Vespa affinis are rarely seen, and the larger hornets are practically absent from the area. Also, the nest entrance and the direction of the flight path happened to directly face the neighbourhood market. This could have been providing a ready and exceptional source of food in the form of flies attracted to meat or rubbish, or meat from the market itself. I also wonder how it could have reached such a size without even being noticed; people in Hong Kong are quick to report any nest they see, and the authorities and pest control companies are just as quick to destroy them. The gentle, inoffensive nature of this species is evident from the fact that people walked past the row of shrubs every day, without realizing that they were less than a foot away from this bustling colony. Had it been a more defensive species like Vespa velutina, people might have been stung and the nest would have been destroyed long ago. Still, this shows that people and wasps CAN in fact coexist in harmony; it is just human nature to be annoyed, repulsed and frightened when people find a wasp nest nearby.
This wonder of nature is now part of my collection and the most beautiful nest I have ever owned. In mid-January I watched as new queens dispersed from the nest - their size and slow flight was evident as they circled the area repeatedly, presumably orientating to the environment, and then went in search of places to hibernate. In the meantime, I thought the nest couldn't grow anymore, but apparently it grew 23cm taller and 12cm wider throughout February, during what was one of the longest cold snaps ever in Hong Kong's history, only to die off in mid-March. (I wonder why it continued to grow even after new queens had dispersed. But perhaps the new queens hatched and dispersed in stages, i.e. not all of them would have left during the time I witnessed the dispersal) I crept into the bush again, this time not caring about the astonished stares from people waiting at the bus stop! I quickly cut the branches the nest was attached to with a pair of shears and removed it carefully with the branches still intact. Upon bringing it home and measuring it, it is approximately 46cm in circumference and 51cm in vertical length. This is exceptional for Vespa bicolor, although nests of Vespa affinis and
Vespa velutina regular reach greater sizes. The pattern on this nest is also truly beautiful and a typical example of this species' nests architecture. A true showpiece!