Are European Hornets Dangerous? Unveiling the Truth

European hornets are large wasps that can be intimidating due to their size and appearance.

Originating from Europe and Asia, these hornets can grow up to 1.3 inches long and have a brown body with yellow stripes on their abdomen and a light-colored face.

While they can be aggressive when defending their nests, European hornets are generally not a significant threat to humans.

Their nests are typically found in concealed locations such as hollow trees, barns, and even within the hollow walls of houses. If a nest poses no danger to people, it’s best to leave it alone, as it will naturally die off during the winter.

Of course, caution should be taken when encountering any type of wasp or hornet, and if a nest is found in a high-traffic area, it may be wise to consult a pest control professional to safely and effectively address the issue.

Are European Hornets Dangerous
European Hornets

European Hornets: An Overview

Appearance and Size

European hornets (Vespa crabro) are the largest eusocial wasp in the Hymenoptera family Vespidae. They measure between 0.75 to 1.3 inches long, with a brown body and yellow stripes on their abdomen.

Origin and Habitat

Originally native to Europe and Asia, European hornets were introduced to North America in the 1840s.

Since then, they have spread throughout the eastern United States and can be found as far west as Louisiana and the Dakotas.

They typically build fragile, tan paper nests in concealed places like hollow trees, barns, outbuildings, hollow walls of houses, attics, and abandoned bee hives.

Behavior and Habits

Some key characteristics of European hornets include:

  • Nocturnal activity: Unlike many other wasp species, European hornets are active at night.
  • Paper nest production: They produce mottled brown-tan paper for their nest, as opposed to the gray-colored paper used by baldfaced hornets.
  • Social wasp: As a social wasp, European hornets live in colonies with a queen, workers, and drones to support their community.
FeatureEuropean HornetBaldfaced Hornet
Size0.75 to 1.3 inches longAbout 0.5 to 0.62 inches long
ColorBrown with yellow stripesBlack and white
Nest Paper ColorMottled brown-tanGray
ActivityNocturnalDiurnal

While European hornets can pose a threat if their nest is disturbed, treating them can be dangerous. If a nest is not in an area that directly threatens people, it’s best to leave it alone to die naturally.

Are European Hornets Dangerous?

Stinging and Aggression

European hornets are large insects that can be about 0.75 to 1.3 inches long. Although their size can be intimidating, these hornets are generally not aggressive unless provoked.

They only attack when their nests or themselves are being threatened.

Multiple Stings and Safety

While European hornets are capable of stinging multiple times, it’s important to note that this won’t usually happen with unprovoked encounters.

To minimize the risks, avoid disturbing their nests and try to stay away if you spot them in the area.

Safety Tips:

  • Be cautious near their nesting sites
  • Wear protective clothing if handling the nests
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you’re allergic to wasp stings

Venom: Pain, Itch, and Swell

The venom of European hornets can cause pain, itching, and swelling when stung. For most people, these symptoms are uncomfortable but not life-threatening.

However, for those allergic to venom, it’s essential to get medical help immediately.

When stung, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the stinger (if present)
  2. Clean the area with soap and water
  3. Apply a cold compress to reduce swelling
  4. Take an antihistamine or pain reliever for itch and discomfort
Threat LevelSting PainAggressiveness
LowModerateLow (if unprovoked)

Nesting and Reproduction

Queens, Workers, and Males

European hornets consist of three types of individuals: queens, workers, and males. Each nest contains around 200-400 workers and a queen.

  • Queens: fertile female hornets responsible for laying eggs
  • Workers: infertile females performing tasks such as nest construction and food collection
  • Males: responsible for mating with queens during the reproductive season

Nest Locations and Materials

European hornets usually build their nests in concealed locations such as:

  • Hollow trees
  • Barns
  • Sheds
  • Attics
  • Hollow walls
  • Abandoned bee hives

The nests are made of tan paper created by hornets chewing wood and other fibers, then mixing them with their saliva.

Eggs, Larvae, and Winter Survival

Queens initiate nest-building and lay eggs, which develop into larvae. The colony grows and expands as the hornets reproduce and construct more nest cells. The life stages in a European hornet’s life cycle are:

  1. Egg
  2. Larval (several stages)
  3. Pupae
  4. Adult

During winter, only mated queens survive, hibernating in safe locations and reemerging the following spring to start new colonies.

Life StageFeaturesDuration
EggSmall, white, and fragile5-8 days
LarvalFeeding and growing; cocooned11-14 days
PupaeTransforming and maturingApproximately 14 days
AdultActive lifecycle stageQueens: 1 year; Others: Several weeks

European Hornets and Other Insects

Interaction with Honeybees

European hornets are known to prey on honeybees, posing a threat to bee colonies. Examples of their behavior include:

  • Hunting and capturing honeybees at the entrance of their hives.
  • Feeding on the captured bees to sustain themselves and their larvae.

Despite this, European hornets have not been reported to cause significant damage to honeybee populations in the United States.

Comparison to Other Wasp Species

Here is a comparison table between European hornets, yellow jackets, paper wasps, and giant hornets:

SpeciesSizeColorHabitatSocial or Solitary
European Hornet3/4 to 16/25 inchesBrown, yellow stripesHollow trees, barns, hollow walls, attics, abandoned hivesSocial
Yellow Jacket3/8 to 5/8 inchesBlack, yellow stripesSoil, tree stumps, attics, building overhangsSocial
Paper Wasp1/2 to 3/4 inchesBrown, black, yellowUmbrella-shaped nests on horizontal surfacesSocial/Semi-social
Northern Giant Hornet1 1/2 to 2 inchesBlack, yellow, whiteForest edges, subterranean or aerial nestsSocial

European hornets are unique in that they are active at night, unlike other wasp species.

Predation on Other Insects

Apart from honeybees, European hornets also prey on various insects, such as:

By preying on these insects, European hornets can provide some ecological benefits by controlling the population of certain pests.

Control and Treatment

Preventive Measures

To minimize the risks associated with European hornets, taking preventive measures is crucial. Here are some steps you can follow:

  • Seal cracks and gaps around your home to prevent hornets from entering
  • Keep trash cans closed to avoid attracting them
  • Avoid brightly-colored clothing and sweet scents during outdoor activities

Pest Control Products

There are several pest control products available in the market to control European hornets. Some examples include:

  • Insecticide sprays: Use with caution around children and pets
  • Hornet traps: Place traps at a safe distance from high-traffic areas
  • Dust insecticides: Apply around entry points and nests
ProductProsCons
Insecticide SprayFast-acting, easy to useRisk of exposure to humans/pets
Hornet TrapChemical-free, eco-friendlyLimited effectiveness
Dust InsecticideLong-lasting, targets nestRequires manual application

Professional Help

In some cases, seeking professional help from a pest control expert may be the best option. Here’s why:

  • They have experience dealing with hornet infestations
  • They possess specialized equipment and techniques

Safety

Always prioritize safety when dealing with European hornets. Remember:

  • Wear protective clothing when near hornet nests
  • Avoid disturbing nests or approaching European hornets during the day, as they can be aggressive
  • Keep a safe distance and use prevention methods to minimize hornet interactions

Impact on Property and Environment

Damage to Structures

European hornets can cause damage to properties. These insects select concealed places like hollow trees, barns, outbuildings, and attics to build their fragile, tan paper nests.

Additionally, they might chew on wood, damaging window frames and furniture.

Food Sources and Impact on Gardens

European hornets have a diverse diet. They feed on fallen fruit, which can lead to problems in gardens. Here are some ways they can impact gardens:

  • Attracted to fallen fruit
  • Disturb garden areas by feeding on fruits

These hornets are also carnivorous and hunt various bugs. Being a wasp species, they prey on smaller insects like flies, bees, and other pests.

European Hornets as Beneficial Insects

Despite their negative impacts, European hornets are also helpful. They contribute to pest control in gardens as their diet consists of pest insects. Some benefits include:

  • Reduction of pests (Pros)
  • Helping maintain a balanced ecosystem

However, benefits come with drawbacks:

  • Stings (Cons)
  • Damaging structures and properties

Comparison Table

AspectEuropean HornetsOther Wasp Species
DietFallen fruit, insectsNectar, insects
Impact on GardensMixed effectsMixed effects
Beneficial InsectsYesYes
Damage to StructuresYesVariable

Conclusion

In conclusion, European hornets impact both property and the environment. They damage structures but also help control pests in gardens. These insects are capable of delivering painful stings.

However, they won’t attack humans until they are provoked. Stay away from their nest if you want to avoid such encounters. They actively hunt other stinging insects like honey bees.

Use the hacks mentioned above to keep these insects at bay. If the sting causes an allergic reaction, immediately seek medical help. Understanding their dual nature can lead to better management strategies.

Footnotes

  1. University of Maryland Extension 2

  2. Penn State Extension 2

  3. Penn State Extension

  4. NC State Extension Publications

  5. University of Maryland Extension

  6. Illinois Extension

  7. Clemson Home & Garden Information Center

  8. University of Maryland Extension

  9. Clemson Home & Garden Information Center

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about European hornets. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – European Hornet

Subject:  What’s this bee?
The geographic location of the bug:  Orange County, NY
Date: 05/26/2018
Time: 08:17 AM EDT
Your letter to the Bugman:  Woke up to find this giant bee IN MY BEDROOM this morning. It wanted out (and I wanted it out) and somehow everyone left the room alive.

It was a significantly large bee — unquestionably the biggest I’ve ever seen, and solidly in the inch-long realm.
How you want your letter signed:  Thanks

European Hornet

This is not a bee.  It is a European Hornet, a species introduced to North America at the end of the nineteenth century.

Letter 2 – European Hornet

Subject: Cicada Killer, Japanese or European hornet?
Location: Grove City, PA
October 17, 2013 7:28 am
This was on my door frame, right outside early in the morning, October 17. It was chilly out and very damp.

He seemed pretty chilled and not moving, but when the sun came out and he dried off, he ”woke up” and he did not like my being anywhere near him. Just wondering if he is anything to worry about.


Signature: Jodi

European Hornet
European Hornet

Hi Jodi,
This is a European Hornet. We wonder if any of our readers can identify this individual as a queen.

Letter 3 – European Hornet

Subject: Can’t identify this insect
Location: Derbyshire5
June 3, 2014, 8:51 am
Spotted the other day on a seat at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire. Just curious to find out what it is if you can help
Signature: John

European Hornet
European Hornet

Hi John,
This is a European Hornet,
Vespa crabro, and we believe this is a queen gathering wood pulp for her nest. 

Soon, when her first generation of workers can leave the nest, she will remain in the nest and produce more eggs.  We found a fascinating website called Hornets: Gentle Giants that you might enjoy reading.

Letter 4 – European Hornet

Subject:  Is this a hornet?
The geographic location of the bug:  Richmond, VA
Date: 10/30/2017
Time: 04:18 PM EDT
On my doorknob. Won’t move. I don’t wanna mess with it. Please identify.
How you want your letter signed:  Frantzis

European Hornet

Dear Frantzis,
This is a non-native European Hornet.  We suspect, because of the season, that this might be a new queen that is searching for a good place to hibernate.  According to the Penn State Department of Entomology

“The overwintering queens are somewhat larger – up to 35 mm” and “Each fall, the colony produces males and females that mate, and the females become next year’s queens.

Only the overwintering queens survive in protected sites such as under loose bark, in tree cavities, and in wall voids of buildings. All other colony members produced in the current year will perish.” 

Letter 5 – European Hornet

Subject:  Large bee
The geographic location of the bug:  Berks County Pennsylvania
Date: 05/20/2018
Time: 11:13 PM EDT
Your letter to the Bugman —
This bee was found in my garage. I’ve never seen one so big. Unfortunately, it was killed before I could get to it. The picture doesn’t do it justice. It’s about the thickness of a pinky finger.

The giant Asian hornet is the only thing I could find that looked similar. Should I be worried?
How you want your letter signed:  Oswald

European Hornet

Dear Oswald,
This is a European Hornet, a species introduced to North America toward the end of the Nineteenth Century.  It has naturalized.  Though European Hornets are not aggressive, they will sting to defend a nest.

Letter 6 – European Hornet

Subject:  Big wasp-looking thing
The geographic location of the bug:  Frederick County Maryland
Date: 10/06/2019
Time: 04:46 PM EDT
Your letter to the Bugman:  Saw this big bee/wasp eating a fig in my garden. Much bigger than anything I’ve seen here.
How you want your letter signed:  Garden Guy

European Hornet

Dear Garden Guy,
As you can see by comparing your image to this BugGuide image, you encountered a European Hornet.  According to BugGuide:  “native to Eurasia,
V. c. germana introduced to e. N. Amer. (1800s).”

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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