That sounds like a hardy hornet!
It’s most common for Bald-faced Hornet queens to leave their nests in the autumn to set up new territory. However, it’s not impossible that a queen would hibernate inside “last summer’s” nest.
Those nests are terrific insulators! Every time I see wasps constructing their nests, it makes me think of humans insulating their houses with blow-in cellulose insulation, combined with a little of that expanding-foam insulation.
Your leftover hornet might be a queen, or a worker who managed to tough out this year’s mild winter inside the cozy nest.
It can be tricky to distinguish queens from workers, since they both look very similar. Queen Bald-faced Hornets are usually about one and a half times the size of the workers (which isn’t very helpful if you’ve only got one hornet). If your survivor is more than 3/4″ long, then it might be a queen.
Thanks for sharing your find with us!
If you want to read more about Bald-faced Hornets, I recommend the field guide “Common Bees And Wasps Of Ohio” by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. There’s also this great webpage devoted to Bald-faced Hornets that was produced by Penn State University’s Virtual Nature Trail.
-Naturalist Chris Mentrek