European hornets (Vespa crabro) are social wasps that can measure between 3/4 to 1 3/8 inches in length. These hornets, with their distinctive brown and yellow-striped abdomens, are native to Europe and Asia but have become established in the eastern United States since their introduction in the 1840s.
As colony builders, European hornets are often found constructing their fragile, paper nests in concealed locations, such as hollow trees and building structures. Understanding how far these hornets travel away from their nest is crucial, as this information can help people take appropriate precautions when encountering these wasps and managing any potential risks.
European Hornets: An Overview
Life Cycle and Habits
- Queens: Fertilized females that establish new colonies and lay eggs
- Workers: Infertile females that defend the nest, care for the young, and forage for food
- Males: Reproduce with new queens
During fall, the fertilized queens overwinter in protected areas, while the rest of the colony dies off3. A new colony emerges every year.
European hornets build fragile, tan paper nests in concealed locations4. Some examples of nest locations include:
- Hollow trees
- Barns, outbuildings
- Hollow walls of houses
- Abandoned bee hives
Nests in the southern US can reach up to 2-3 feet in length5. However, in colder areas like Virginia, most nests are smaller. Here’s a comparison of nest sizes:
|Region||Nest Length||Diameter||Worker Population|
|Southern US||2-3 feet (0.6-0.9 m)||20 inches||800-1000|
|Virginia||Smaller sizes||Not specified||Fewer than 800-1000|
Note that nests are annual and die out with winter temperatures6.
Nest Range and Travel Distance
Factors Affecting Travel Distance
European hornets typically build their nests in concealed locations like hollow trees, barns, outbuildings, hollow walls of houses, and attics1. The distance they travel away from their nests can be influenced by various factors such as:
- Food availability: Hornets may travel further when food is scarce to find prey like insects or other food sources2.
- Nest location: If their nest is located in a densely populated area with abundant food sources, they may not need to fly far to find food3.
Implications for Human and Wildlife Interactions
The travel distance and nesting habits of European hornets have implications for both humans and local wildlife. To name a few:
- Stinging incidents: While the hornets are not typically aggressive, they are more likely to sting if their nest is disturbed or threatened4.
- Impacts on local wildlife: European hornets feed on several insects, including pests like flies and caterpillars, providing a natural form of pest control. However, they may also prey on beneficial insects like bees5.
|Factor||Impact on Humans||Impact on Wildlife|
|Travel Distance||Risk of stinging||Pest control|
|Nest Location & Concealment||Stinging hazard||–|
To reduce the likelihood of European hornet encounters and negative impacts, it is essential to be aware of their nesting habits and avoid disturbing their nests6. If a nest is discovered near human activity, hiring a pest control professional to remove the nest is recommended7.
Preventing and Handling Infestations
Common Signs of Infestation
European hornets build fragile, tan paper nests in concealed places like hollow trees, barns, outbuildings, hollow walls of houses, attics, and abandoned bee hives1. Signs of infestation include:
- Observing hornets buzzing around or entering/exiting a small hole in your home or property
- Hearing a buzzing or humming sound coming from within walls or other hidden spaces
- Finding their distinctive tan paper nests
Safe Removal and Control Methods
If a nest is in a structure or near human activity, it’s best to hire a pest control professional with expertise in killing and removing European hornet nests2. However, some DIY methods can be attempted if the situation is not severe:
- Apply insecticide dust or spray in the entrance of the nest at night, when hornets are less active
- Seal up cracks and holes in your home to prevent future infestations
Pros and Cons of DIY Removal:
|Cost-saving||Potential risk of stings and allergic reactions|
|Immediate action||Less effective than professional removal|
|Temporary solution||May not get rid of the entire nest|
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 – Queen European Hornet
Massive Menacing Bee
April 26, 2010
I had heard a buzzing at my window but didn’t think anything of it, but a few minutes later, I was called to the window to view an amazing bee!
It had a yellow- and black-striped abdomen along with a largely red head, and was well over 2 inches long (maybe 3). It was quite the bee. What on earth is it?
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Because of its size and the time of year, we are guessing that this European Hornet, Vespa crabro, is a Queen. The species was introduced from Germany and is not established in the Eastern parts of North America. BugGuide has a photo, also from Georgia, that looks quite close. BugGuide explains the life cycle: “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 2 – Giant Hornets
Damn Big Bug
Maybe you can identify these very big bugs. They are on all of our Lylac bushes (old type Lylacs, maybe seventy-five to a hundred years old). The wasp like insects are about 1 1/2″ long and when leaving the area where they feed, they all go towards the same spot along a Ridge (Flint Ridge) up behind the house. They seem to be pealing off the bark, at some points, all the way around the branches. They may be killing the bushes, as the leaves on those branches are drying up. Two Questions, what are they, and where ever the nest is located would the area be dangous to be in? They are very tolarent in the area where they are feeding. Thanks for the info.
Jeff & Helen West
Hi Jeff and Helen,
Thank you for the lucid and detail oriented letter. These are Giant Hornets, Vespa crabro germana, a species introduced to America in the mid nineteenth century. The adults feed on insects and nectar. They are taking the bark from your lilac bushes to chew and produce paper for nest contsruction. The paper nest is found in a hollow tree, under flooring, or in a small sheltered building. They are not aggressive, but will defend their nest by stinging if they sense dangerous intruders.
Letter 3 – Male Northern Paper Wasp
Location: Brigantine, New Jersey, USA
August 20, 2014 1:30 pm
I wonder if you can help me out with the id of this one?!
Correction Courtesy of Eric Eaton
Very nice image of a male Northern Paper Wasp, Polistes fuscatus. A European Hornet would be much bigger, more robust in body shape, but I’ve seen both and the difference is striking to me. I also don’t know what context or story came with the image.
Letter 4 – Giant Hornets
Hello! You have a great site. I have used it many times this summer. I was wondering if you can tell me what these bugs are. Are they a type of wasp? They have been stripping the bark off my lilac bush – I’m assuming they plan to lay their eggs there. Any id help would be appreciated.
Rene’ in MD
These are Giant Hornets, Vespa crabro germana. They are found in the east. It is an introduced species. These are social hornets that build a nest in a hollow tree, under porch floor or in and outbuilding. The females in your photo are gathering bark to chew into paper pulp for the nest.
Letter 5 – Giant Hornets
bees or wasps
I found these bees (or are they wasps?) on a tree root in our yard in central North Carolina. It looks like they’re burrowing into the wood, but they don’t look like carpenter bees to me. I have seen up to 4 at a time with their heads partly in the root. I also think I can see one inside the burrow. Any ideas?
Giant Hornets, Vespa crabro germana, were introduced to this country in the mid 1800s. They are gathering wood pulp for their large paper nest.
Letter 6 – Queen European Hornet
Subject: flying insect
Location: New Jersey, interior
April 19, 2013 9:24 am
Hi there! This one was on an upstairs window screen this morning, and its size is what struck me: it’s close to 2 inches in length.
I’d like to remove the screen to free it to the outside but need to know if it stings (I’m allergic and must be careful of such things…).
Thanks for your help!
This is a European Hornet, Vespa crabro, a species introduced to North America in the 1800s. We suspect this is a queen that recently emerged from hibernation and that she will look for a suitable place to begin building a new nest to start a new colony. See BugGuide for additional information.