European Hornet: All You Need to Know for a Sting-Free Summer

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European hornets are fascinating creatures native to Europe and Asia. They made their way to North America around the 1840s and have since become widespread in the eastern United States, including all of Pennsylvania 1. These social wasps are not only interesting to learn about, but they also play a vital role in controlling other insect populations and maintaining ecological balance.

These large insects measure between 3/4 to 1 3/8 inches long, with a distinctive brown color and yellow stripes on their abdomens2. European hornets build fragile, tan paper nests in concealed locations like hollow trees, old barns, and abandoned beehives – even within walls of homes and attics3.

Although considered a beneficial insect, European hornets can be a nuisance when their nest is located near human activity. In such circumstances, it’s recommended to call a pest control professional with expertise in handling and removing their nests4. Learning more about European hornets can help you better understand these captivating creatures and make informed decisions when dealing with them.

European Hornet Overview

Description and Size

European hornets (Vespa crabro) are large insects belonging to the family Vespidae and subfamily Vespinae within the order Hymenoptera. They measure about 3/4 to 1 3/8 inches long. With a brown body, yellow stripes on their abdomen, and a light-colored face, they’re quite distinct.

Distribution and Habitat

European hornets are native to Europe and Asia. They were introduced to North America in the 1840s and are now widespread in the eastern United States. These hornets build fragile, tan paper nests in concealed places, such as:

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

Biology and Life Cycle

The life cycle of European hornets includes four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. They’re social insects that live in colonies led by a queen, who is the only egg-laying female. Here’s a basic overview of their life cycle:

  1. Queen lays eggs
  2. Larvae hatch from eggs
  3. Larvae are fed and cared for by adult workers
  4. Larvae pupate and eventually emerge as adult hornets

Diet and Feeding Habits

European hornets feed on a variety of insects and other arthropods. They’re known for their ability to capture and consume:

  • Large insects such as grasshoppers and locusts
  • Spiders
  • Flies
  • Caterpillars

Their strong mandibles allow them to catch and chew their prey. Additionally, they tend to feed on tree sap and honeydew secreted by aphids, providing them with essential carbohydrates.

Dangers and Safety

Sting and Venom

European Hornets can be a cause for concern due to their painful stings. Their stingers inject venom which may cause:

  • Pain and swelling
  • Redness around the sting site

Compared to bee or wasp stings, European Hornet stings can be more painful because their venom contains a greater amount of acetylcholine.

Pain relief:

  • Apply a cold pack
  • Keep the affected area elevated

Allergies and Symptoms

Some individuals are allergic to European Hornet stings. Allergy symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hives and itching
  • Swelling of the face, eyes, or throat

In severe cases, anaphylaxis can occur, which requires immediate medical attention.

Aggressive Behavior

While not typically aggressive, European Hornets may become defensive when provoked or when their nest is disturbed.

To avoid provoking these insects:

  • Maintain a safe distance from nests
  • Do not swat or disturb the hornets

Here’s a quick comparison table between European Hornets and common wasps:

European Hornet Common Wasp
Size 1-1.5 inches 0.5-0.8 inches
Venom composition Higher concentration of acetylcholine Lower concentration of acetylcholine
Aggressiveness Less aggressive to humans More aggressive to humans

In summary, it’s important to be cautious around European Hornets due to their painful stings and potential for allergic reactions. To stay safe, avoid provoking hornets and try to maintain distance from their nests when possible.

Nesting and Control

Nest Identification

European hornets build fragile, tan paper nests in concealed places. A few characteristics of these nests include:

  • Size: Large and aerial
  • Color: Tan
  • Material: Paper

Where to Find Nests

You can usually find European hornet nests in the following locations:

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

These hornets tend to choose out-of-the-way places with little human activity.

Professional Pest Control

When a nest is near human activity or in a structure, it’s crucial to consider hiring a pest control professional.

Pros of professional pest control:

  • Expertise in killing and removing nests
  • Safety measures in place
  • Effective treatment methods

Cons:

  • Expensive than DIY methods
  • Possible use of toxic chemicals

Common pest control methods include safely treating the nest entrance and ensuring the removal of the envelope. Periodic monitoring of property, especially during fall, can help with early detection and control of European hornet nests.

Comparison with Other Hornets and Wasps

Asian Giant Hornet

The Asian Giant Hornet, also known as the “murder hornet,” is not in North America at this time. They have only been seen in the Pacific Northwest and are not to be confused with the European Hornet1. Some key differences are:

  • Asian Giant Hornets are larger at around 1.5-2 inches long
  • Their color is mostly yellow with dark/black stripes
  • Extremely aggressive and can destroy entire honey bee colonies

Paper Wasp

Paper wasps are a different eusocial wasp species that construct nests made of paper-like material4. They differ from European Hornets in several ways:

  • Smaller in size, ranging from 0.5 to 1 inch in length
  • They have slender bodies, while European Hornets are robust
  • Their nests are exposed and have an open-comb structure

Yellowjackets

Yellowjackets belong to the Vespidae family and are often confused with European Hornets3. Distinctions include:

  • Smaller size, usually between 0.5 and 0.75 inches in length
  • Bright yellow and black coloration
  • Aggressive behavior when their nest is disturbed

Bald-Faced Hornets

Bald-faced hornets are native to North America and are characterized by their black bodies and distinctive white markings on their heads2. These hornets differ from European Hornets because they:

  • Are social insects, unlike the solitary European Hornet
  • Have white banding on the last few segments of their abdomen
  • Measure between 0.5 and 0.8 inches in length

Cicada Killers

Cicada killers are commonly misidentified as Murder Hornets but are actually a native wasp species in North America5. Differences from European Hornets include:

  • Lengths up to 1.5 inches
  • Black bodies with yellow markings on the thorax and abdomen
  • Rust-colored eyes, orangish-red wings, and legs
Feature European Hornet Asian Giant Hornet Paper Wasp Yellowjacket Bald-Faced Hornet Cicada Killer
Size 1-1.5 inches 1.5-2 inches 0.5-1 inch 0.5-0.75 inches 0.5-0.8 inches Up to 1.5 inches
Color Dark brown, yellow Yellow, dark stripes Various colors Bright yellow, black Black, white markings Black, yellow, orange
Nesting In cavities In hives/ground Exposed combs In cavities In trees In ground burrows
Aggressiveness Moderate Very aggressive Low to moderate Aggressive Moderate Low

European Hornets and the Environment

Pollinators and Ecosystem Role

European hornets (Vespa crabro) are native to Europe and Asia, and were introduced to North America in the 1840s. They play a vital role as pollinators within their ecosystem. While they aren’t as efficient as bees, hornets still contribute to the pollination of various plants, including fruit trees.

Here’s a quick comparison of European hornets to bees:

Characteristic European Hornets Bees
Pollination Moderate, less efficient than bees Highly efficient
Aggressiveness Can be aggressive, particularly near nests Generally more docile
Distribution Europe, Asia, and North America Worldwide

Prey and Predators

European hornets have a diverse diet, which can impact various insects and wildlife in their environment. Some examples of their prey include:

  • Insects (e.g., flies, caterpillars)
  • Spiders
  • Various arthropods
  • Small vertebrates (rarely)

One notable aspect of their diet is that they prey on other stinging insects like wasps and bees, sometimes raiding bee colonies for honey and larvae. This can be detrimental to local bee populations.

As for their own predators, European hornets have a few natural enemies. Some common hornet predators include:

  • Birds
  • Bats
  • Other insects (e.g., praying mantises, other large wasps)

In summary, European hornets are adaptable insects that play a role as pollinators, while also being preys and predators in their environment. Their presence can have both positive and negative effects on fruit trees, bee populations, and other animals.

Prevention and Safety Measures

Securing Property and Homes

To protect your property from European Hornets, ensure any openings in your home, such as cracks and holes, are sealed. For example, fix broken window screens and gaps in sidings. This prevents hornets from entering your home and building nests in cavities or attics. European hornets are particularly common in the eastern United States, including states like Virginia and New York.

Protecting Family and Pets

European hornets can be a threat to your family and pets, as they may sting if they feel threatened. Ensure your loved ones are aware of hornet habits, such as being active at night, so they can avoid attracting them. Keep food sources, such as pet food and trash cans, sealed and inaccessible to hornets. This helps keep them away from your home and reduces the chance of an encounter.

Here are some quick tips for protecting family and pets:

  • Teach children not to approach hornets.
  • Keep pets indoors or in supervised areas.
  • Be cautious when disturbing areas where hornets might nest.

Outdoor Lighting

Since European hornets are active at night, it is beneficial to reconsider your outdoor lighting. Hornets are attracted to bright, white lights, so consider using yellow or warm-colored porch lights and garden lights. This reduces the attractiveness of your property to hornets searching for food.

Comparison of light types:

Light Color Attractiveness to Hornets Suitable for Outdoor Use
White High Less suitable
Yellow Low More suitable
Warm colors Low More suitable

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.psu.edu/european-hornet 2

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

  3. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/european-hornet/ 2

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

  5. https://extension.illinois.edu/news-releases/its-big-its-not-murder-hornet-how-identify-large-wasps

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 – Battling Queen European Hornets

 

Subject: Ginormous Yellow Jacket/Wasp/Spawn of Satan
Location: Suburbs of Cleveland, OH; near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park
August 12, 2015 5:46 am
Dear Bugman,
I hope this message finds you well. Every Spring, I find a few of these monstrosities in my house, and they kinda creep me out. This year, as usual, they were buzzing around my windows, trying to escape into the outside world, where they can then eat children and small pets, but I’ve also found them outside my house this Summer. Recently, I found two engaged in a duel to the death on my driveway, then, last night, I heard what I thought was a helicopter landing in my front yard, but it turned out to be another one of these big sumbitches buzzing around my porch light. Finally, this morning, I saw what I assumed was a hummingbird, but it was actually another one of these big jerks, which landed briefly on my driveway, picked something up, then scurried off to a nearby oak tree. Any chance you can please tell me what they are, and whether or not I should just burn my house down to get rid of them? Alive, they are about 2″ long, but shrink to about an inch after an entire can of wasp/hornet spray has been deployed against them. Thanks for your help!
Signature: Kenneth F Mucha II

European Hornets:  Battling Queens
European Hornets: Battling Queens

Dear Kenneth,
These are European Hornets,
Vespa crabro, an Invasive Exotic species that according to BugGuide was introduced to eastern North America in the nineteenth century.  These are top of the food chain insect predators that are able to dispatch much larger native predators including Dragonflies.  According to BugGuide:  “Paper nest is built in hollow trees, or in human structures such as attics. Adults come to lights.”  We cannot recall any reports of people being stung by European Hornets, but we imagine they will defend the nest and we also imagine the sting could be quite painful.  We believe your images document battling Queen European Hornets, perhaps fighting over prime real estate for nest construction.

Letter 2 – European Hornet

 

is this a yellowjacket?
November 13, 2009
this fellow chomping on some tasty pears i thought was a really nice looking creature, i’m still not sure what he is, a wasp, yellow jacket, got me.
Danny Tincher
london, ky

European Hornet
European Hornet

Hi DAnny,
This behemoth is a European Hornet or Giant Hornet, Vespa crabro, an introduced species that potentially is cause for concern as an invasive species.

Update July 23,We realized we should link to the page which tracks sightings in various states.

Letter 3 – European Hornet

 

Subject:  Cicada Killer Wasp?
Geographic location of the bug:  Thurmont, MD
August 26, 2017 7:21 AM
We have a large number of very large bees hanging around our lilac tree. I think they might be cicada killers, but I’m not positive. They also seem to be eating/drinking something from the branches of the tree. Maybe sap? I just wanted to be sure they are the nonaggressive wasps and not something we should worry about right next to our front porch. Also, will they kill the tree?
Signature:  Joan Hertel

European Hornet gathering bark

Dear Joan,
This is NOT a Cicada Killer, but a European Hornet.  We have gotten reports in the past of European Hornets stripping bark off lilac bushes.  European Hornets are social wasps that construct a nest from paper pulp that they manufacture by chewing bark.  According to BugGuide the habitat is:  “Woodlands. Paper nest is built in hollow trees, or in human structures such as attics. Adults come to lights” and “Predatory on other insects, used to feed young. Also girdle twigs to drink sap.”  Social Wasps will defend a nest by stinging, but to the best of our knowledge, European Hornets are not considered aggressive.

European Hornet
Daniel,
Thank you so much for the quick reply! I’m glad I asked you as my husband mows under that bush and has disturbed them, but no stings so far. Is there something we could use on the lilac to discourage them from stripping the bark? I don’t want to kill them as long as they aren’t in my attic, but I’d like them to leave my lilac alive and uninjured.
Thank you!
Joan
Sorry Joan,

We do not know how to discourage them from stripping bark from your lilac, but we don’t believe their actions will have a lasting negative effect on the health of the plant.

 

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.

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Tags: European Hornet

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12 Comments. Leave new

  • So sorry,but when I see a poisonous spider or something like this European Hornet wiggling its stinger at me, it is them or me. I do have to admit that these really are quite amazing creatures.
    ,with the way the stripes come from what I would call it’s’ belly around to create what look like dots down the back.Forgive my bug anatomy, it has been many years since biology classes. I, too, was freaked out by the sight of this monster wasp inside my house. How long have they been in this part of the world? Do they live in the ground as a friend of mine suggested? He identified it over the phone correctly as a hornet. What do they live on? I guess since I found one in my house that there is a nest close by?

    Reply
    • According to BugGuide, this Eurasian native was introduced to North America in the 1800s and “first detected in Arkansas in 1999.” We believe the introduction was most likely along the east coast, so their populations are spreading west. We believe the nests are constructed above ground in protected locations as this BugGuide posting indicates. BugGuide also notes: “Predatory on other insects, used to feed young. Also girdle twigs to drink sap.”

      Reply
  • So sorry,but when I see a poisonous spider or something like this European Hornet wiggling its stinger at me, it is them or me. I do have to admit that these really are quite amazing creatures.
    ,with the way the stripes come from what I would call it’s’ belly around to create what look like dots down the back.Forgive my bug anatomy, it has been many years since biology classes. I, too, was freaked out by the sight of this monster wasp inside my house. How long have they been in this part of the world? Do they live in the ground as a friend of mine suggested? He identified it over the phone correctly as a hornet. What do they live on? I guess since I found one in my house that there is a nest close by?

    Reply
  • Thank you so much for your response. I’m very impressed with your Website, and I am certain to use it again. Diane C.

    Reply
  • We like these beautiful hornets in the UK. They are protected here, although not in the rest of Europe. They can pack a punch, but are extremely docile.

    Reply
  • Loved your descriptive writing, Kenneth! LOL

    Reply
  • Hmmm… do the readers decide whether it’s unnecessary before or after they kill the bug or visit your site?

    I think most people think any “bug” in their personal space, in or out of doors is invasive to them and must die.

    And my observations are that the species listed as being eaten by the European Hornet, also eat other predators, and indeed there are way more reports of people being bitten by Wheel Bugs on this site than stung by the hornet (which does not know it is considered “invasive” but is just doing what s/he is supposed to do in life — really wouldn’t want to carry that concept on to all the other insects, such as Devil’s Coach Horse Rove Beetle, and even people…).

    Most of the invasives in the world (including a lot of the spiders in the US, not limited to the common Cross Spider, Araneus diadematus and Cellar Spider, Wolf Spider, and many Jumping Spiders) are due to human intervention and not their plotting little tiny minds out to annoy the humans.

    This includes the very cool house centipede that most people kill on sight.

    http://bugguide.net/node/view/32329

    The thing is, the hornet probably didn’t want to be in the house, and probably wasn’t going to hurt any of the people in the house, nor hurt the house either.

    Reply
  • I have these European Hornets here near Hughesville PA. One stung me while I was picking Apples. My hand swelled up and I got a low grade fever . BE CAREFUL around them.

    Reply
  • Just had damage to a dogwood diagnosed and it came back as European hornet damage. Bridgewater Ct.

    Reply
  • Like Leigh, I really love the writing.

    I seriously love hornets and yellow jackets. Even though they can sting, they often are pretty friendly if you avoid their nests. Once I picked a Vespula germanica queen off of my school’s window and she didn’t even sting me. I’m going to see if I can get her to make a nest in captivity after she finishes hibernating.

    Reply
  • Like Leigh, I really love the writing.

    I seriously love hornets and yellow jackets. Even though they can sting, they often are pretty friendly if you avoid their nests. Once I picked a Vespula germanica queen off of my school’s window and she didn’t even sting me. I’m going to see if I can get her to make a nest in captivity after she finishes hibernating.

    Reply
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