Do European Hornets Fly at Night? Unraveling the Mystery of Their Nocturnal Activities

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European hornets, also known as brown or giant hornets, are a notable species due to their size and behavior. As social wasps, these insects grow to be about 3/4 to 1 3/8 inches long and have brown bodies with yellow stripes on their abdomen and a light-colored face 1.

One particularly interesting feature of European hornets is their activity during nighttime hours. Unlike many other hornet species, European hornets are known to fly at night, often being attracted to bright exterior lighting or light shining from indoors 2. This nocturnal behavior sets them apart from their daytime-reluctant relatives and can cause some concern for those who encounter them after dark.

Do European Hornets Fly at Night

Circadian Rhythms

European hornets, also known as brown or giant hornets, have unique circadian rhythms compared to other wasp species. They are active during the day and also at night, which is rather unusual for wasps. For example, they may be attracted to bright exterior lighting or light shining at night.

Activity Patterns

Their activity patterns set European hornets apart from other wasps. To give you an idea, here’s a comparison of European hornets with a common wasp species, the paper wasp:

Characteristic European Hornet Paper Wasp
Activity Period Day and night Daytime only
Nesting Location Hollow trees, attics, abandoned bee hives Trees, eaves, window frames

In summary, European hornets do fly at night, while many other wasp species, such as paper wasps, are typically active during the day. This nocturnal behavior makes European hornets more likely to be attracted to bright lights and may cause encounters with humans during nighttime hours.

Habitat and Nesting Behavior

Nest Locations

European hornets are social wasps that build fragile, tan paper nests in concealed places. Examples of such places include:

  • Hollow trees
  • Barns
  • Outbuildings
  • Hollow walls of houses
  • Attics
  • Abandoned bee hives 1

These hornets do not reuse old nests; only mated queens in sheltered locations survive the winter, and each queen establishes a new nest in the spring3. European hornets have spread to most of the eastern United States, as far west as Louisiana and the Dakotas4.

Nighttime Protective Measures

European hornets are often attracted to lights and can be more active during nighttime hours3. Foraging hornets pose little hazard to people as long as they are not disturbed.

When a nest is near human activity or within a structure, it is advisable to hire a pest control professional with expertise in killing and removing European hornet nests5.

What Attracts European Hornets at Night

Light Sources

European hornets are nocturnal insects, which means they are active during the night. One factor that attracts them is light sources. Porch lights or other bright exterior lighting can entice these hornets to fly nearby. Additionally, light shining through windows may also attract them.

Food Availability

At night, European hornets are on the hunt for food. Their diet consists of various insects and other arthropods, which makes night time an ideal period to search for prey as many insects are active during these hours. For example, they feed on flies, spiders, and even crickets that are more active at night.

Key Features:

  • Nocturnal insects
  • Attracted to light sources
  • Hunt for food at night

Characteristics:

  • Brown coloration with yellow stripes
  • Length: 3/4 to 1 3/8 inches
  • Capable of multiple stings

Pros and Cons of European Hornets:

Pros Cons
Help control pest populations Can be aggressive if their nest is threatened
Contribute to pollination Stings can be painful, similar to a honey bee sting

In conclusion, European hornets are attracted to light sources at night, and their nocturnal lifestyle increases their food availability as they hunt for insects that are more active during this time.

Preventing European Hornet Nighttime Encounters

Outdoor Lighting Adjustments

European hornets are known to be attracted to lights at night. To reduce nighttime encounters with these hornets, consider making adjustments to your outdoor lighting:

  • Switch to yellow or warm-colored LED lights, as they are less attractive to insects
  • Install motion-activated lights instead of continuous lighting
  • Use dimmer lights, as brighter lights are more attractive to hornets

Reducing Food Sources

Another way to prevent encounters with European hornets at night is by limiting their food sources around your home:

  • Keep garbage cans closed tightly and clean to avoid attracting insects
  • Pick up fallen fruits from fruit trees, as they serve as food for hornets
  • Eliminate standing water in your yard, as it attracts various insects

By following these outdoor lighting adjustments and reducing food sources, you can minimize the chances of nighttime encounters with European hornets.

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.umd.edu/resource/european-hornets 2

  2. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/european-hornets

  3. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/european-hornet 2

  4. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/european-hornets

  5. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/european-hornet/

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – European Hornet

 

Subject: curious…
Location: north nj
May 12, 2015 9:26 pm
Can’t figure out if this is a European wasp, or a Japanese wasp. I’m in North Jersey.
Signature: adam minick

European Hornet
European Hornet

Hi Adam,
This is a European Hornet and we believe it is a queen.  According to BugGuide:  “Queens emerge from hibernation during the spring, and they search for a suitable location in which to start a new nest. They build the nest with chewed wood pulp, and a few eggs are laid in individual paper cells; these eggs develop into non-reproductive workers. When 5-10 workers have emerged, they take over the care of the nest, and the rest of queen’s life is devoted solely to egg laying. The workers capture insects, bringing them back to the nest to feed the brood. Workers need more high-energy sugary foods such as sap and nectar, and hornet larvae are able to exude a sugary liquid which the workers can feed on.  The nest reaches its peak size towards mid September. At this time the queen lays eggs that develop into males (drones) and new queens, she then dies shortly after. The new queens and males mate during a ‘nuptial flight’, after which the males die, and the newly mated queens seek out suitable places in which to hibernate; the old nest is never re-used.”

Letter 2 – European Hornet

 

Subject: Hornet or Wasp
Location: Kannapolis NC
May 20, 2015 11:40 pm
This giant thing was trying to make a nest in my paper lamp! It was huge and looked pretty dangerous…we let it go outside…maybe not the best decision?!
May 2015 location NC.
Signature: MForrest

European Hornet
European Hornet

Dear MForrest,
This is a European Hornet,
Vespa crabro, and introduced species.  You may read more about the European Hornet on the Penn State Entomology page where it states:  “”The European or giant hornet is an introduced species first reported in the United States in 1840 in New York. Currently, its geographical range extends from the Northeastern states west to the Dakotas, and south to Louisiana and Florida. It belongs to a family of wasps called the vespids, which encompass all of the yellowjackets including the bald-faced hornets. Technically, the European hornet is the only true hornet in North America and is large and will aggressively defend their nests. Homeowners should be cautious when attempting to manage this hornet.

Thank you!
I have a young child.  This makes me very concerned…we will be cautious and keep an eye out for anymore.

Letter 3 – European Hornet

 

Subject: Mystery Hornet?
Location: Souderton, Pennsylvanis
September 19, 2015 4:32 am
Hello, we killed this hornet (?) after it flew into our house. It was about 6 AM, on Sept 19. The weather was cool and foggy. We live in South Eastern Pennsylvania in a semi-rural area with lots of farms and trees. After we killed this one we saw another one outside the house buzzing around our porch light. The shape of the abdomen reminds me of a hornet, but it doesn’t match any picture that I could find of species typical for the area. Thanks so much for any help you can offer on this guy, and all of your efforts to educate people about the insects in their lives!!
Signature: Alison

European Hornet
European Hornet

Dear Alison,
This European Hornet is a non-native species introduced into North America during the nineteenth century.  European Hornets are not considered aggressive toward humans, and it is most likely that no threat was posed when it entered your home.  Creatures that inadvertently enter the home can be safely relocated outdoors by trapping them in an inverted glass with the opening covered by a post card.

Letter 4 – European Hornet

 

Subject: Big bee/wasp
Location: South central indiana
April 28, 2016 7:40 pm
We had this big bee/wasp fly into our home. It almost was if he was drunk. He would fly into a corner than crash to the ground. Then lay for a few minute. Get up and fly for ten seconds then crash.
We are in south central Indiana.
Signature: Paul

European Hornet
European Hornet

Dear Paul,
This is a European Hornet,
Vespa crabo, and judging by the time of year, the circumstances under which you found her, and her behavior, we believe she is a Queen who just ended her hibernation and is about to begin a new colony.  You should release her.  You can read more about European Hornets on BugGuide.

Daniel, thanks for the answer and confirmation. About 15 minutes after I sent the email I concluded the same thing. I gave her an apple to feed off of and then released her today. She seemed much more energetic. It is amazing how much of he apple slices she ate.
Thanks for the feedback. Hopefully the nest she builds will be away from the house.
Have a good weekend.
Paul

Apple eaten by European Hornet
Apple eaten by European Hornet

Thanks for the update Paul.  We will be tagging this posting with the Bug Humanitarian Award for your kindness to the lower beasts.

Authors

  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: European Hornet

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