Do European Hornets Sting? Unveiling the Truth Behind These Insects

European hornets are large insects, measuring 3/4 to 1 3/8 inches long. Although they are not naturally aggressive, they have the potential to sting if they feel threatened. These hornets feed on various insects, including yellowjackets, butterflies, and bees source.

As a woodland species, European hornets prefer natural cavities such as tree hollows for constructing their nests. These insects typically don’t cause problems in natural areas, but they may take up residence in barns, sheds, or attics in some cases source. Foraging European hornets pose little hazard to people unless they are provoked source.

European Hornet Overview

Physical Appearance

The European hornet, or Vespa crabro, is a large insect, typically measuring between 3/4 to 1 3/8 inches long. It has a brown body with yellow stripes on its abdomen and a light-colored face. Their black and yellow-banded abdomens also have V-shaped markings.

Habitat

  • European hornets build fragile, tan paper nests
  • Nests are usually found in concealed places
  • Examples include hollow trees, barns, outbuildings, hollow walls of houses, attics, and abandoned bee hives

Source: University of Maryland Extension

Geographical Distribution

Continent Presence
Europe Native
Asia Native
North America Introduced

European hornets are native to Europe and Asia. They were first introduced to North America from central Europe and were detected in the 1840s. Since then, they have spread to most of the eastern United States, reaching as far west as Louisiana and the Dakotas.

Source: Penn State Extension

Behavior and Adaptations

Hunting Patterns

European hornets are predators that primarily hunt at night, making them somewhat nocturnal. They have a diverse diet which includes:

  • Bees: European hornets often prey on honey bees.
  • Flies: They also feed on other flying insects like flies.
  • Wasps: Smaller wasp species like yellow jackets can become their prey.

Social Structure

The European hornet is a eusocial wasp that belongs to the Vespidae family. Their colonies include a:

  • Queen: The reproducing female who lays eggs.
  • Workers: Sterile female offspring who help care for the brood and maintain the nest.
  • Drones: Male hornets that mate with the queen, dying soon after mating.

Nesting Habits

European hornets build fragile yet characteristic nests, typically in concealed locations like:

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

The nests are made of tan paper constructed from chewed wood fibers mixed with saliva, forming hexagonal cells in which the queen lays her eggs.

Winter Survival

Only mated queens survive the winter in sheltered locations, such as under tree bark or in crevices. In the spring, each queen starts a new nest without reusing old ones. The survival of queens during winter ensures the continuation of the species the following year.

The European hornet is a fascinating and important predator in its ecosystem. As a nocturnal hunter, the hornet preys on many other insects, playing a key role in maintaining a balance among species. With specific nesting habits and a social structure that ensures their survival, European hornets have adapted well to their environment.

Stinging and Risks

Sting Frequency and Aggressiveness

European hornets are a type of social wasp. While not naturally aggressive towards humans, they might sting if they feel threatened. Some factors that could trigger a sting include:

  • Swatting at the hornet
  • Disturbing their nest
  • Sweat or strong scents on your body

Comparing European hornets to other stinging insects:

Insect Aggressiveness Sting Frequency
European Hornet Low Low
Yellowjacket Medium Medium
Honeybee Low Low (single sting)

Sting Effects and Treatment

A European hornet sting can cause localized swelling and pain. To treat a sting:

  1. Remove stinger, if present (only honeybees leave a stinger)
  2. Clean the area with soap and water
  3. Apply a cold pack for 15-20 minutes

Over-the-counter pain relief medication like ibuprofen can help in managing the pain.

Allergic Reactions

In some people, European hornet stings could trigger an allergic response, leading to symptoms such as:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Nausea
  • Fainting

In case of an allergic reaction, promptly seek medical help. Some individuals might need an Epi-pen or other medical treatment to counter the effects of the sting.

Prevention and Control

Protecting Your Home

To prevent European hornets from entering your home, ensure that all entry points are sealed. For example:

  • Seal gaps around windows and doors.
  • Install window screens.
  • Close up wall voids and other openings.

Additionally, limit hornet attraction by following these practices:

  • Don’t leave food outdoors and cover trash bins.
  • Turn off porch lights at night as they attract insects.

Safely Removing Nests

European hornets build fragile, tan paper nests in concealed places such as hollow trees, barns, attics, and abandoned bee hives. If you discover a nest:

  1. Wear protective gear, such as gloves and goggles.
  2. Keep a safe distance and don’t disturb the nest.
  3. Use a hose to spray water and dislodge the nest, if it’s accessible.
  4. Repeat the process until the nest is removed.

Remember, do not attempt to remove large or inaccessible nests on your own.

Pros of this method:

  • No chemicals involved.
  • Affordable.

Cons of this method:

  • Can be dangerous for inexperienced individuals.

When to Involve a Pest Control Professional

Certain circumstances require the expertise of a pest control professional:

  • If nests are located in hard-to-reach places or pose a threat to your family.
  • If hornets have entered your home and established a nest in wall voids or attics.
  • In case of large infestations or multiple nests.

Professionals have access to specialized equipment, materials, and knowledge required to tackle European hornet issues effectively and safely.

Comparison of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) vs. Pest Control Professional:

Aspect DIY Pest Control Professional
Cost Low Higher
Safety Risky Safer
Expertise Limited High
Effectiveness Varies Higher

Remember, as European hornets are a social wasp species, it’s essential to handle them with caution. Don’t take unnecessary risks, and seek professional help when required.

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 attracted to Porch Light

 

Subject:  Huge wasp out at night! What is it?
Geographic location of the bug:  Northeastern Pennsylvania
Date: 10/23/2017
Time: 10:50 PM EDT
Hello, For the last two months or so we have been seeing one or two of these massive wasps out at night, hanging around our porch light. Once or twice one has come at me when I am in the back yard with the flashlight. They are at least 1.5 inches long.
I can’t figure out what it is because all of my searches yield people insisting they are giant Asian hornets, which they obviously are not. Can you ID this? Do you know why it is active at night? (My guess is they are hunting the bugs around our porch light, but is that normal?) Are they aggressive?
How you want your letter signed:  Laura Recene

European Hornet

Dear Laura,
This is an introduced European Hornet, and your report is not the first we have received of them being attracted to lights at night.  According to BugGuide:  “Adults come to lights.”

Letter 2 – European Hornet Kills Dragonfly

 

Cicada Killer Carnage!
Location: Milton, DE
August 7, 2011 9:34 pm
Hello again Bugman!!
On our recent vacation to Delaware, we also were lucky enough to catch this awesome bug on bug carnage, which we think is a Cicada Killer making a meal of a dragon fly. We also took some video of it since my boyfriend thinks these bugs are absolutely awesome. Poor dragonfly had his head ripped clean off!
We were wondering why it went after a dragonfly, however. Perhaps the coloring being close to that of the cicada made it confused? Or do they regularly snack on other bugs?
Thanks again!!
Signature: Bruce and Ren

European Hornet Kills Dragonfly

Dear Bruce and Ren,
You have mistaken a European Hornet,
Vespa crabro, for a Cicada Killer, which explains why the prey in your Food Chain images is not a Cicada.  According to BugGuide, they are:  “Predatory on other insects, used to feed young. Also girdle twigs to drink sap.”  We cannot explain why the Dragonfly was killed and decapitated, and then abandoned.  Insects are not prone to killing for the sake of killing.  They either defend themselves or kill to eat or to provide food for their offspring.  We wonder why the European Hornet killed and decapitated the Dragonfly and then abandoned it.  Possibly it was disturbed by the camera.  Perhaps one of our readers will have the time to identify the species of dragonfly.

Decapitated Dragonfly

Daniel,
After browsing your site for a bit we started to suspect our bug may have been a hornet when we saw the coloring wasn’t quite right for a cicada killer. We’re glad to have our suspicions confirmed. We were surprised, though, as the hornet was flying around us while we were throwing a frisbee, and did not seem in the slightest aggressive, even when we got close to take pictures (and we were close enough to hear the crunching! Yuck!). Still an awesome sight we were glad to stumble upon. I forgot to mention, that particular bug was seen at the Prime Hook Wildlife Reserve in Milton, DE. Great place to visit. Thanks again for your help!
Bruce and Ren

 

Letter 3 – European Hornet

 

Subject: Giant wasp in NJ
Location: New Jersey
May 13, 2016 5:09 pm
Hey bugman,
I pump gas in Northern New Jersey, and i found this big guy behind a gas door. I ended up removing the gas cap and filling the car before i even noticed, and was too afraid to put the cap back on.
I managed to snap the fist photo while in was still on the gas cap.
I was able to get it out with a broom without killing it, and snapped a second photo. I brought it to a safe distance and set it free.
It was a out an inch to an inch and a half long, yellow and black patterned abdomen, with black and blood red spattered on the head and back
Can you help me identify this type of bee/ wasp thing?
Signature: Sincerily, cstar4004

European Hornet
European Hornet

Dear cstar4004,
This is an introduced European Hornet,
Vespa crabro, a species that has been established in North America since the end of the 19th Century.

Letter 4 – European Hornet

 

Subject: Huge hornet
Location: Blythewood, SC
July 21, 2017 8:19 pm
We live in Blythewood, SC and tonight this hornet came on our deck and then 4-5 others after it was killed. I need to know what kind of hornet as I have small children and am now terrified to let them go outside.
Signature: Jessica Brasy

European Hornet

Dear Jessica,
This is a European Hornet,
Vespa crabro.  According to BugGuide:  “Woodlands. Paper nest is built in hollow trees, or in human structures such as attics. Adults come to lights.”

Letter 5 – European Hornet attacted to light

 

Weird looking demon wasp bug
September 28, 2009
Hey WTB,
I saw this bug crawling outside my window tonight and I’ve never seen anything like it here! It looks like a cross between a mutated yellow jacket and a wasp. I checked your site but the closest thing I think could be is some kind of cicada killer but I’m not sure. The pictures don’t really give you a sense of size but I’d say the bug is about 3 inches long and the abdomen is about half and inch wide. Sorry about the pictures, it was flying quickly in and out of sight and those were the best pictures I could catch of it.
Thanks for your time and I love the site!
stephanie
knoxville, tn

European Hornet
European Hornet

Hi Stephanie,
We have been getting numerous reports of European Hornets, Vespa crabro, this year.  This introduced species is very adaptable, and it may displace native species once it becomes established in an area.

Letter 6 – European Hornet eats Swamp Darner

 

Large redand yellow bee/wasp?
September 2, 2009
Would like to know the name of this bee-like bug that I found eating a dragonfly
Wondering999
Odenton, Maryland

European Hornet eats Dragonfly
European Hornet eats Swamp Darner

Dear Wondering999,
The predator in your photo is a European Hornet, Vespa crabo, an introduced species, so we are tagging it as an Invasive Exotic.  You can read about the species on BugGuide.  The prey seems to resemble one of the Pilot Darners in the genus Coryphaeschna, but we are uncertain if the range is a far north as Maryland.  We would love assistance with the Dragonfly ID.  We didn’t have much luck on this Dragonfly of Maryland page.

Letter 7 – European Hornet found in Car!!!

 

Subject: European Hornet, I think
Location: Bucks County, PA (In my car!)
May 13, 2014 7:34 pm
Hi there bug man!
Today I found this huge bug in my car. It couldn’t make it’s way out and people in the parking lot were gathered round with various solutions. Unfortunatly, it finally balled up and died. It looks like it was nesting in the door of my car. I’ve sent pictures and video. Sorry for the comentary but it freaked me out. Never saw one before! Could you tell me if I have identified this bug correctly? Thanks so much!
Signature: Judy “freaked-out” Sawyer

European Hornet
European Hornet

Dear Judy,
We agree that this is a European Hornet,
Vespa crabro, but we do not believe it was attempting to nest in your car.

Letter 8 – European Hornet Kills Dragonfly

 

Subject: European Hornet eating Dragonfly
Location: Westfield, NJ, USA
July 16, 2012 10:58 am
My own internet research led me from my initial suspicion of ”Cicada Killer” to a more accurate labeling of ”European Hornet.” I pulled into my driveway in Westfield, NJ, got out of the car, and heard a strange buzzing/flapping noise. The dragonfly was on its back, struggling, with the hornet clinging to its thorax. By the time I got batteries in the camera, the battle was over, and the hornet was butchering its catch, presumably taking pieces back to the hive.
I have more photos, and even videos of the carnage! If you’re interested, check out http://www.flickr.com/photos/53449201@N06/sets/72157630604296946/
This was an amazing event. I had to leave before the hornet was done with its work, and when I returned home an hour later, all that remained was all four wings of the dragonfly, attached to a tiny piece of thorax exoskeleton! I saved them in a tupperware.
Signature: Jordan

European Hornet kills Dragonfly

Hi Jordan,
This is not the first time we have received documentation of a European Hornet preying upon a Dragonfly.  Since the European Hornet is an introduced species and since we doubt there are many natural predators of Dragonflies in the insect world, the cumulative effects of such predation might have negative ramifications on our local Dragonfly populations.  Thanks for your excellent description of the events.

Letter 9 – European Hornet Nest

 

Subject:  European hornet ?
Geographic location of the bug:  north Georgia
Date: 05/02/2019
Time: 06:13 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman :  Found this hornets’ nest at the base of a tree in north Georgia.  The guards at the entrance were all fanning the nest.  I think this is the European hornet but would like confirmation.  Sorry the photos are blurry – actually they are freeze frames from a long video clip.  FWIW I am a Patreon donor to WTB!
How you want your letter signed:  Bruce Carlson

European Hornets

Hi Bruce,
Thanks for your patronage.  We apologize for the delay, but Daniel is currently in Ohio for Mother’s Day and the internet here is woefully slow.  These are definitely European Hornets. At first we were not convinced this is a nest because European Hornets and many other Wasps will feed on sap that is oozing from trees.  According to BugGuide:  “Paper nest is built in hollow trees, or in human structures such as attics” so we also concur that this is a nest.

European Hornets

Authors

    by
  • 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.

18 thoughts on “Do European Hornets Sting? Unveiling the Truth Behind These Insects”

  1. I was just looking for something on the web when I found the site. The dragonfly seen being eaten by the hornet appears to be a swamp darner (Epiaeschna heros).

    Reply
  2. There is a lot that has been said about European Hornet and some are myth, like their supposed aggressivity toward human.
    At my parents’ house we had once a busy European Hornets’ nest under the outside roof, over the balcony, jute above the table we ate at. Not even once we had been annoyed by a hornet buzzing around the food. Not only that but there wasn’t any wasp or fly around for they were exterminated by the Hornets.

    The Dragonfly is to me a female Swamp Darner Epiaeschna heros.

    Why the hornet has acted so I can’t tell but maybe something in the dragonfly’s behaviour has trigged a killing reflex to the Hornet, then maybe it ‘realized’ there was to much to deal with.

    Reply
  3. You said not sure if they’re as far north as Maryland. For years I’ve seen these giants in south jersey. All summer long. Not just at home but all over south jersey as I travel for work in construction I’m outside all day I should have figured they weren’t native.

    Reply
  4. It should be noted that hornets (and most wasps in general) will release a pheromone when killed that attracts and enrages others from the nest. Yet another reason to leave them in peace.

    Reply
  5. Hello, my name is Cael and I am 11 and I think this hornet killed and abandoned the swamp darner because it never wanted to eat the dragonfly, I think maybe because dragonflies are predators th dragonfly was going to attack the hornet but the hornet instead decided to defend itself by attacking and killing the dragonfly then flying off

    Reply
  6. How do they nest? I found a white substance in my window frame that looks like a cigareete filter and it had “brown seed looking” eggs buried within it. I used a screwdriver to dislodge it and they fell to the ground. Scary. It was shorty after that when I turned on a lamp at my desk that one of those scary wasp like yellow jacket that was huge, stung me. It was very painful.

    Reply
    • 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.” Here is an image of a European Hornet Nest from BugGuide.

      Reply
  7. I just saw one bouncing around my porch light here in western NJ. This is the second one I’ve seen this year. The first one was fluttering about on the porch floor a month or so ago, so I stomped him. Yes, my reaction both times has been “murder hornets!!!”, and these are huge, easily 1 1/2″ long and at least as thick as a pencil. Other places online say the European hornet is only an inch long. No way. The abdomen on this thing is an inch, plus the rest of the bug. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them around our village in years past, a few blocks from here, before the murder hornet thing, and they really are big. Much bigger than the bald faced hornets we’ve got here for the first time ever this year. Maybe what I’m seeing is a cicada killer, but “flies at night, comes to the light” is something I’ve read only applies to the euro hornet?

    Reply
  8. Just found two of them early this morning. One was dead and the other was just setting on a jug, there is a light that stays on at night so I’m assuming they were attracted to the area. I took photos and it’s definitely a European Hornet. Never seen one setting still but it is very damp and cool today here in central Kentucky.

    Reply
  9. I live in NW Arkansas and the last month I have had at least 6-10 buzzing around my front porch light. They are European hornets and they are scary and 1″ long. I had someone come spray around the house and porch for the red wasps I had and these guys died and there were 70 of them. Now each morning I find 6-12 a day. I am going to try to use an attractant with a bottle and drown them.

    Reply
  10. I, too, am from NEPA and this year (2023) I am seeing SO many of these hornets. They gather around my porch light at night. I let my dog out tonight and 2 flew in the house. This is the second time this week. Their buzz is loud and they are pretty hard to kill, as I had to spray him repeatedly with oven cleaner and then whack several times with a broom handle. I looked all over for their nest but can’t seem to find one so I wonder how close they hunt from their nest? They are starting to be a real pain but summer is nearing end and hopefully they will go away soon.

    Reply
  11. Fallentimber PA I been killing at least 4 every night killed 9 last night still trying to locate the hive . I know someone who got stung by one and that nest was under the ground.

    Reply

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