European Hornet vs Asian Hornet: A Fascinating Battle of Two Species

European hornets and Asian hornets are two distinct species of wasps that are often confused due to their similar sizes and appearances. Both species have captured public attention in recent years, especially with the invasive introduction of the Asian hornet in some parts of the world. In this article, we will delve deeper into the differences and similarities between these two hornet species, providing a better understanding for our readers.

The European hornet (Vespa crabro) is native to Europe, Asia, and has been introduced to North America. It is a large wasp with a distinct yellow and black striped pattern on its abdomen. In contrast, the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) – often incorrectly referred to as the “murder hornet” – is native to Asia and has been accidentally introduced to Europe, causing a significant ecological impact due to its tendency to prey on honeybees.

To help differentiate between these two species, we will compare their sizes, habitats, behaviors, and potential risks to humans and the environment. This information should prove helpful for anyone who encounters these hornets and wants to know more about their distinctions and similarities.

European Hornet vs Asian Hornet: Basic Comparison

Species Overview

The European Hornet (Vespa crabro) is a large wasp species native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. They are often found in woodland areas but can also reside near human dwellings. On the other hand, the Asian Hornet or Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia), is native to East and Southeast Asia. It has gained attention recently due to its invasive presence in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Size and Physical Features

  • European Hornet (Vespa crabro)

    • Length: Up to 1.2 inches (3 cm)
    • Coloration: Yellow and brown striped abdomen, reddish-brown thorax
  • Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia)

    • Length: Up to 2 inches (5 cm)
    • Coloration: Orange head, black and orange striped abdomen

A key difference between the two species is their size and coloration. European hornets are smaller, and their coloration consists of yellow and brown stripes, while Asian giant hornets are larger and have orange and black stripes.

Range and Distribution

  • European Hornet

    • Native to: Europe, North Africa, and Asia
    • Invasive presence: Eastern United States
  • Asian Giant Hornet

    • Native to: East and Southeast Asia
    • Invasive presence: Pacific Northwest of the United States

European hornets have a wider native range, whereas Asian giant hornets are predominantly found in East and Southeast Asia. European hornets have become invasive in the Eastern United States, while Asian giant hornets have recently invaded the Pacific Northwest.

Species European Hornet Asian Giant Hornet
Size Up to 1.2 inches Up to 2 inches
Coloration Yellow and brown stripes Orange head, black and orange stripes
Native range Europe, North Africa, Asia East and Southeast Asia
Invasive presence Eastern United States Pacific Northwest of the United States

Nests and Colonies

Colony Structure

European hornets:

  • Colonies begin with a single queen
  • Can contain 300 or more workers by late summer1

Asian giant hornets:

  • Colonies have multiple queens2
  • Can contain thousands of workers3

Nest Building

Both European hornets and Asian giant hornets build paper nests made of chewed wood fibers. However, the size of their nests differs:

  • European hornet nests contain 1,500-3,000 cells4
  • Asian giant hornet nests are bigger with more cells5

Location

Nest locations vary between these two hornet species:

European hornets:

  • Build nests in cavities such as hollow trees and occasionally wall voids1
  • Nests peak in size during mid-September4

Asian giant hornets:

  • Build nests in various locations, such as tree hollows, soil, and ground cavities6
  • Nests increase in size from late summer into fall5

Comparison Table

Feature European Hornet Asian Giant Hornet
Colony Structure Single queen, 300+ workers1 Multiple queens, thousands of workers[^2^,^3^]
Nest Building 1,500-3,000 cells4 Bigger with more cells5
Nesting Location Hollow trees, occasionally wall voids1 Tree hollows, soil, ground cavities6

Hornet Behavior and Diet

Social Wasp Lifestyle

European hornets (Vespa crabro) and Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia) belong to the Vespidae family, making them both eusocial wasps. They share some common characteristics:

  • Live in colonies
  • Have a caste system (queen, workers, and males)
  • Build nests from chewed cellulose

The location where their nests are built could be an important difference. European hornets tend to build nests in cavities, while Asian giant hornets may build nests both underground and above ground.

Feeding Habits

Both European and Asian hornets are carnivorous, with a strong preference for feeding on insects. A key difference between these species is the type of insects they target and the impact on the ecosystems in which they are found.

European hornets:

  • Attack honey bees, but not as frequently as in their native range
  • Incorporate sugar and carbohydrates in their diet, especially in fall (source)
  • Attracted to fruit, leading to conflicts with humans

Asian giant hornets:

  • Known for attacking honeybee colonies, posing a risk to the honeybee population
  • Invasive species, potential to disrupt local ecosystems
  • Carnivorous, attacking various insects including flies

Here is a brief comparison table highlighting some of the differences between these two types of hornets:

Feature European Hornet Asian Giant Hornet
Size 2.5 cm (approx.) 4 – 5 cm (approx.)
Honeybee predation Less frequent Frequent and destructive
Nest location Cavities Both underground & above ground
Sting pain level Painful Extremely painful

It’s essential to be aware of the differences between European and Asian hornets to properly address the impact of these species on ecosystems and potential encounters with humans.

Impact on Honey Bees and Pollination

Effects on Honey Bee Populations

Asian giant hornets, also known as murder hornets, can decimate entire honey bee hives in mere hours. They use their powerful mandibles to decapitate bees and carry away the thoraxes to feed their young. In contrast, European hornets may also attack honey bees, but their impact is significantly less severe.

A single Asian hornet can kill multiple honey bees:

  • Stings: Hornets inject venom through their stings
  • Population: Hornet attacks can drastically decrease bee populations

Asian hornets mostly target honey bee hives in late summer and early fall, when workers are feeding new queens and males within the colony.

Pollinators Threatened

Both Asian and European hornets negatively affect honey bees, which are essential pollinators. Honey bees play a crucial role in plant-pollinator interaction networks and are critical for agricultural productivity.

Comparing the two hornets’ impact on honey bees and pollination:

Aspect Asian Hornet European Hornet
Aggressiveness Extremely high: rapid attacks, multiple kills Less aggressive
Threat to Honey Bees Drastic population decreases, total hive destruction Minor disruptions to bee populations
Pollination Effects Significant decrease in pollination services Minimal to moderate impact on pollination

Pollinators like honey bees are crucial to:

  • Pollination: Honey bees help with the reproduction of plants
  • Agriculture: Honey bee pollination increases crop yields
  • Biodiversity: Healthy ecosystems rely on plant-pollinator interactions

It is critical for beekeepers, regulators, and the general public to detect and identify these exotic hornets, especially Asian giant hornets, to protect honey bee populations and maintain adequate pollination levels.

Hornet Management and Control

Traps and Pesticides

Invasive hornets like the Asian giant hornet pose threats to honey bees and native ecosystems. Traps, typically baited with sweet foods, can be used to capture and monitor hornet populations. Pesticides, if used carefully, may aid in controlling problematic infestations.

Example:

  • Asian giant hornet traps in the Pacific Northwest have helped manage invasions.

However, pesticides must be chosen carefully to ensure they target the invasive hornets without harming native species or the environment.

Conservation Efforts

Conserving native hornet species, like the European hornet, is important for maintaining balanced ecosystems. Introducing natural predators or supporting existing ones, especially in areas with UK sightings of invasive hornets, can help manage these pests.

For example:

  • Encouraging bird and bat populations in Tetbury and Gloucestershire in the UK can help control invasive hornet populations.

Some comparisons between European and Asian giant hornets:

Feature European Hornet Asian Giant Hornet
Range North America and Eurasia East Asia (Japan) and Pacific Northwest
Size 1-1.4 inches (25-35 mm) 1.5-2 inches (38-50 mm)
Diet Insects, fruit, sweet foods Honey bees, wasps, and other insects
Nests Decayed trees, wall cavities Soil, tree hollows, wall cavities
Active months April-September April-November

Hornet characteristics:

  • European hornet: Yellow and black markings
  • Asian giant hornet: Orange and black markings
  • Both have powerful stingers and can be aggressive when threatened

In conclusion, managing invasive hornet populations requires a combination of efforts, such as trapping, pesticides, and conservation of native species. Always consider potential side effects and risks when selecting control methods, and monitor local ecosystems for possible sightings and range expansion.

Human Interaction and Safety

Risk of Stings to Humans

European hornets and Asian hornets, also known as “murder hornets,” can pose risks to humans, especially when their nests are disturbed. While European hornets might not pose as significant a threat, Asian hornets are known to cause around 50 deaths per year in Japan, where they are most prevalent.

Multiple stings from either species can be particularly dangerous, especially for people with allergies.

Hornet Identification

Quick identification of these hornets is crucial for proper prevention measures. European hornets have a wingspan of about 1.2 inches, while Asian hornets average over 1.5 inches in length. Some of the distinct features to help identify them are:

  • European hornets: large bodies with reddish or brown striped markings and a black, “velvety” abdomen
  • Asian hornets: black thorax with yellow stripes, and distinctive reddish-orange wings

Prevention

In order to minimize the risk of stings or nest disturbances, be sure to take these preventative steps:

  • Regularly inspect your property for signs of nests, particularly in sheltered areas like tree hollows or building crevices
  • Seal any holes or gaps in your home’s exterior to prevent hornets from building nests within
  • Avoid swatting or threatening a hornet, as it may provoke an attack
  • If you encounter a nest, engage a professional to safely remove or destroy it

Comparison Table: European Hornet vs Asian Hornet

Feature European Hornet Asian Hornet
Size (length) Up to 1.2 inches 1.5 inches or more
Coloration Reddish/brown stripes Black with yellow bands
Wings Reddish or Brown Reddish-Orange
Nest Tree hollows, crevices Higher locations
Distribution Europe, some US states Asia, Pacific Northwest
Risk to humans Lower Higher
Active season (northern hemisphere) April-November August-November

Taking proper precautions and being able to identify these hornets can help ensure your safety and the well-being of your environment.

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/good-growing/2020-08-27-its-big-its-not-murder-hornet-how-identify-large-wasps 2 3 4

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_giant_hornet#Colony_cycle

  3. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/group/asian-giant-hornets/

  4. https://extension.psu.edu/european-hornet 2 3

  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_giant_hornet#Nests 2 3

  6. https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/giant-hornets 2

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 Hornets gather bark

 

European hornet or Cicada Killer or something else?
Location: Central NJ
August 24, 2011 12:47 pm
We’d love to know if these guys are European Hornets, Cicada Killers or something else.
We have a lot of them in and around our house in Cental NJ during July and August.
Thanks.
Signature: Erik

European Hornets gather bark for nest

Dear Erik,
These are in fact European Hornets, and they are in the act of gathering bark from this shrub.  The hornets will chew the bark into pulp that they use to construct chambers for housing larvae in a communal paper nest.

Thank you very much.  Does “communal paper nest” have any implications about whether it’s likely or unlikely they live inside the tree on which they are pictured in the photo?  We can’t find their nest on the shrub (which has a truck covered with ivy), but during the late afternoon there are a large number of the hornets on the branches (maybe 20-30).
Thanks again.
Erik

These European Hornets are foraging for bark, and the nest might be a considerable distance from your shrub.  We would not recommend looking too thoroughly for the nest, as the Hornets might sting if they feel the nest is being threatened.

Letter 2 – European Hornet Nest in Attic

 

Subject: Huge Bee type bug
Location: Wrentham, MA
September 7, 2013 2:35 pm
My daughter thought she had a mouse in the attic above her bedroom ceiling. Upon investigation, my husband found these in the area of the house. They’re about 2-3 inches long. Are they a bee? Or maybe a wasp? We’re not quite sure what they are and what we need to do about them. It’s Sept 7th in Wrentham, MA, USA.
Signature: Stephanie G

European Hornets
European Hornets

Dear Stephanie,
These are European Hornets, and judging by the number, we are guessing there is a nest hidden past that opening.  According to BugGuide they live in:  “Woodlands. Paper nest is built in hollow trees, or in human structures such as attics. Adults come to lights.”
  BugGuide also notes:  “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.  Based on that information, we would speculate that nothing needs to be done about them at this time since the colony will be dying with the queen and any progeny will most likely nest elsewhere.

Letter 3 – European Hornets attracted to porch light

 

Subject: Wasp?
Location: Central PA
September 10, 2013 2:59 pm
This insect shows up on our covered back porch above the door at night only after the porch light had been on for awhile. I never see them during the day. I believe they live behind the porch light. They are about 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 inches long. My wife thinks they are cicada killers, but I believe they might be scarab hunter wasps. They seem pretty docile and have never stung anyone. I do have a sting allergy and have some reservations about using this door at night. Anyone light you can shed on this would be very much appreciated.
Signature: Rick Davis

European Hornets
European Hornets

Dear Rick,
These are European Hornets, an introduced species that might be negatively impacting native species by preying upon them and displacing them in the food chain.  They might have a nest in the attic.  We have read on BugGuide that they are attracted to lights, so your letter is evidence that is correct.

Dear Daniel,
Thanks for the quick reply.  You certainly nailed this one.  According to the literature you referenced, the nest will move on after the queen dies.  (I made a small donation to your site.)  Thanks again.
Rick

That was very kind of your Rick.  Thanks for the support.

Letter 4 – European Hornet: Queen Perhaps???

 

Eastern Cicada Killer?
Tue, Apr 28, 2009 at 11:25 AM
I was watching TV this morning, and heard a loud buzzing sound behind me. I found this huge hornet? I did some research and concluded that it was a Cicada Killer. I know it’s a ground dweller because I’ve seen these hornets go underground in a hole. I’m just not positive if it’s an Eastern Cicada Killer. Can you confirm?
Chris
Georgia, United States

European Hornet
European Hornet

Hi Chris,
Though the large size of your specimen is similar to the size of a Cicada Killer, your specimen is a European Hornet or Giant Hornet, Vespa crabro, possibly a queen emerged from hibernation.  According to BugGuide:  “Paper nest is built in hollow trees, or in human structures such as attics. Adults come to lights at night, perhaps seeking prey?
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 5 – European Hornets

 

Large Bees- Wool Carders?
September 27, 2009
In searching through your site, I think I have identified these bees as Wool Carder Bees, but I am unsure. In looking at the link you supplied to the Wool Carder website, it said that these bees are active in June and July, and less active in August. It is late September here in Eastern Virginia, which makes me question whether I have identified these bees correctly.
I first noticed these bees because a couple were down in my driveway in the morning (around 7:30 am) before I left for work. Then, while pruning my butterfly bushes, I noticed several of them flying around. My daughter and I were shocked to see one of them take a small butterfly down to the ground, capture it, and fly to a nearby Bradford pear tree.
They do not seem particularily aggressive towards humans, and they are active at night and attracted to outdoor lights. This is a picture of two of them on my porch. The Wool Carder website said that they are solitary bees, which also makes me question my identification.
Are they dangerous? Should I search out the nest or just let them be?
Thank you!
N. Pritchard
Eastern Virginia (Richmond)

European Hornets
European Hornets

Dear N.,
These are European Hornets, Vespa crabro, an introduced species that has become well established in the eastern U.S.  BugGuide indicates:  “Adults come to lights at night, perhaps seeking prey?
”  We just got a comment to one of our Cicada Killer postings and the person claims to have been stung by a Cicada Killer that was attracted to lights.  We believe the culprit was the European Hornet.

Letter 6 – European Hornets at Hummingbird Feeder

 

Subject: hornets and nectar
Location: North Carolina
September 7, 2013 11:57 am
I am enjoying taking photos of the hornets and have started to appreciate insects now that my hummers have left for the winter. In trying to research online, I found that I don’t have much knowledge about these critters. Thought these were Japanese Hornets but now wonder if they are European. Also, thrilled to see photo of Bald Faced on your site….one identified.
I have been curiously watching these large hornets make trip after trip from the hummer feeder up into the trees. Obviously nest is up there somewhere. My question is how do they use the nectar? Is it food, used to produce something like honey bees do, feed the queen or others, or…….?
Appreciate identification and any information as to dangers from and also any benefits they may have in nature.
Any books on flying critters that you would recommend…..anything like a field guide or such?
Signature: estack

European Hornets
European Hornets

Dear estack,
Your action photos are gorgeous.  You are correct that these are European Hornets,
Vespa crabro.  Many adult wasps and hornets feed on nectar and other sweets, like overripe fruit and sap, but they hunt insects or other sources of protein to feed their larvae.  This is also true about the European Hornets.  Since European Hornets prey upon insects and they are not native, European Hornets might have a negative impact on native species.  We cannot think of a good book that concentrates on strictly flying insects, unless you want to be specific like a butterfly guide or a dragonfly guide.  For a general guide to insects, we strongly recommend Eric Eaton’s book Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America.

European Hornets
European Hornets

Thank you so much for such a quick (and kind) reply.  I hate to harm any wildlife, but these hornets have become and are quite a problem.  I may have to find an exterminator to help locate the nest and help me eliminate the main source.  They do tend to get into my house at night – following the light – and I am violently allergic to stings, as is my dog who finds them wonderful “toys” to chase.
Thank you again so very much and I’ll follow up on finding the reading material you suggested.
Ena

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.

6 thoughts on “European Hornet vs Asian Hornet: A Fascinating Battle of Two Species”

  1. Although they do not re-use the same nest, I have found that they DO return to the same place to make a new nest. This is very annoying when they nest is in a high traffic area and one does not endorse extermination…

    Reply
  2. I have the same bees that are eating the bark from my lilac, they are mean. They come after me if I sit on my porch, attacked a humming bird and killer it and they stung my sons dog. I used Talstar, an insecticide concentrate that I bought at our local Southern States store to get rid of the stink bugs a couple of years ago. By the way, Talstar is safe for humans and pets. It worked wonderful on the stink bugs and I’m hoping it will do the same for these European hornets.

    Reply
    • Also have these hornets eating bark on my Lilac bush, that we are currently trying to cut back. (South Jersey) Did the Talstar work? Or should we wait until they go dorment?

      Reply
  3. To prevent hornets, change exterior lights to yellow to reduce their attraction. Also, don’t hesitate to remove any fallen fruits from surrounding trees, as these may lure them in too.

    DIY is not advised for removal. Call in experts, let them handle the job.

    https://atticmech.com/

    Reply
  4. To prevent hornets, change exterior lights to yellow to reduce their attraction. Also, don’t hesitate to remove any fallen fruits from surrounding trees, as these may lure them in too.

    DIY is not advised for removal. Call in experts, let them handle the job.

    https://atticmech.com/

    Reply

Leave a Comment