How Far Do European Hornets Travel from the Nest: A Quick Guide for the Curious

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

European hornets are social wasps known for their large size, ranging from 3/4 to 1 3/8 inches long1. These hornets hold various life stages, including egg, larva, pupa, and adult2.

  • 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.

Nest Characteristics

European hornets build fragile, tan paper nests in concealed locations4. Some examples of nest locations include:

  • Hollow trees
  • Barns, outbuildings
  • Hollow walls of houses
  • Attics
  • 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:

Pros Cons
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

Footnotes

  1. University of Maryland Extension 2 3

  2. NC State Extension Publications 2 3

  3. Virginia Tech 2

  4. Home & Garden Information Center 2

  5. VCE Publications | Virginia Tech 2

  6. European Hornet – Penn State Extension 2

  7. Pest Control Professionals

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 – 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?
Walker Argendeli
Atlanta, Georgia, United States

Queen European Hornet

Dear Walker,
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

 

Asian Giant HornetDamn Big Bug
Hi Bugman!
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
Winchester, Virginia

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

 

Subject: Wasp?
Location: Brigantine, New Jersey, USA
August 20, 2014 1:30 pm
Hi,
I wonder if you can help me out with the id of this one?!
Signature: Kristian

European Hornet???
Male Northern Paper Wasp

Hi Kristian,
Though the coloration is dark, especially on the abdomen, this looks like a European Hornet to us.  We have requested a second opinion.
This individual on BugGuide looks darker than most.

Correction Courtesy of Eric Eaton
Hi, Daniel:
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.
Eric

Letter 4 – Giant Hornets

 

Wasps?
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.
Thank you.
Rene’ in MD

Hi Rene’,
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
Hi:
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!
Signature: Mila

European Hornet Queen
European Hornet Queen

Dear Mila,
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.

Authors

  • Daniel Marlos

    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 “How Far Do European Hornets Travel from the Nest: A Quick Guide for the Curious”

  1. I was photographing bees yesterday when I came across these. I believe them to be European hornets, Are they dangerous to the British Bees?

    Reply
  2. I find these exact wasps on my bedroom floor!!! Three times in the last month! they come in and die or are about to die. Why is this?

    Reply
    • We don’t know why Giant Hornets are entering your home. Perhaps they hibernated and could not find a way out.

      Reply
  3. I read they can get inside your homes interior walls and if a queen is present, a nest is built and away they go. Can be very dangerous. Come out at night looking for food so they don’t have to complete with others still in the hive (usually in a tree, but almost always a test). I was shocked when I first saw the size of one two weeks ago in my Maryland backyard.

    Reply
  4. We live in Southwest Virginia and for the past 2 years we have had giant hornets in the back yard.These bore into the ground and seem to be just one to a hole.We mow over them and they don’t seem to mind and have never tried to sting.

    Reply
  5. Yesterday morning about 530I went outside And my motion detector like kicked on beside my door Within just a few moments I was being attacked by these giant hornets 1 stoned me and Within just a few moments I was being attacked by these giant hornets 1 stunned me and I mean I have never had a sting that bad They must be attracted to my light so Turned it off I sprayed and killed several but cannot find the nest any suggestions on how to find the ass be great thank you very much

    Reply
    • Wow I would still be shaking like I just got my butt handed to me by a bunch of thugs after my wallet. Glad you are okay. Im a fairly burly guy with a very childlike phobia for large stinging insects.

      Reply
  6. Being from Florida and mortally afraid of OUR large red, yellow and black wasps there and after witnessing my father who was a lineman for FPL back in the 70s and 80 go to the hospital with anaphylaxis due to multiple stings from these nightmarish creatures, Ive developed fear as well as a respect for these insects. I dont go anywhere they are and I do not attempt to kill them as I just find it cruel as hell.They deserve a pursuit of life also after all. Fast forward to today here in WV, I have recently witnessed a fast flying, very large black and almost fluorescent green striped hornet upon which I shuddered then ran into the house feeling nauseous. That sound of the wings beating and seeing it fly from one end of yard to the other within a couple seconds raised this tough guy’s phobia level to stratospheric highs. Keep in mind, never been stung by anything but tiny hornets and a bee twice. I thought FL had scary wasps but, this large hornet had me shaking and running and feeling as if an attack was underway hours afterwards. If one of these were to fly into my car with windows down, I dont care if Im going down the highway doing 80, I am parting ways with that big SOB’s new home…later! Pretty sure I have a major phobia at this point you think?

    Reply

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