Types of Hornet Nest: A Friendly Guide to Identification

Hornets are a fascinating group of insects with intriguing nesting habits. You might have come across different types of hornet nests while exploring the outdoors. Understanding the characteristics of these nests can help you identify which species of hornet is residing in the area.

In this article, we’ll be examining various types of hornet nests, from their construction to location preferences. You’ll learn how to recognize the distinctive nests of species like the baldfaced hornet, yellow-legged hornet, and the European hornet.

By distinguishing between the different types of nests, you can better appreciate the diverse behaviors and habitat needs of these insects. So, get ready to delve into the world of hornets and explore their unique architectural abilities!

Understanding the Hornet Species

Bald-Faced Hornet

The Bald-faced Hornet is a social wasp known for its large, gray, paper nests made of chewed wood fiber mixed with saliva. These nests are commonly attached to tree branches, shrubs, utility poles, or houses. This species is part of the family Vespidae.

European Hornet

Another social wasp, the European Hornet, is large, usually about 3/4 to 1 3/8 inches long. They are brown with yellow stripes on their abdomen and a light-colored face. European Hornets build fragile, tan paper nests in concealed places like hollow trees, barns, outbuildings, hollow walls of houses, attics, and abandoned bee hives.

Asian Hornet

The Asian Hornet is a smaller species of hornet, similar to the European Hornet. This venomous insect builds nests both above and below ground, making them more difficult to locate and remove.

Giant Hornet

The Giant Hornet, also known as the Northern Giant Hornet, ranges in size from one to nearly two inches long. They are the largest species of hornet and are usually found nesting in trees or on the ground.

Oriental Hornet

Oriental Hornets thrive in warmer climates and are known for their unique ability to convert sunlight into energy, much like plants. This species often nests underground or beneath rocks and debris.

Asian Giant Hornet

The Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is the world’s largest species of hornet. It can be over 2 inches in length with a large orange head and distinctive black and orange/yellow striped abdomen. These hornets form large colonies that usually nest in the ground but can also be found in tree cavities.


Dolichovespula is a genus of the family Vespidae, containing various species of wasps commonly referred to as aerial yellowjackets or hornets. These species create nests made from paper-like material, often hanging from trees or other structures.

Here’s a comparison table to highlight differences between some of the hornet species:

Species Size Nest Location Unique Features
Bald-Faced Hornet Medium Tree branches Gray paper nests
European Hornet Large Hollow trees Yellow stripes
Asian Hornet Small Above/below ground Venomous
Giant Hornet Very Large Trees/ground Largest hornet
Oriental Hornet Medium Underground Solar-energy convert
Asian Giant Hornet Extra Large Ground/tree cavities Large orange head
Dolichovespula Various Aerial Yellowjackets

Hornet Nest Characteristics


Hornet nests can come in various colors such as black, brown, and gray. These colors often blend well with their surroundings, making them difficult to spot. For example, a nest built in a tree or shrub might have a brownish hue to match the branches.


The shape of hornet nests can vary depending on the species. Some nests have a round or oval shape, while others might be more elongated. The surface of the nest can also have different textures, ranging from smooth to rough. In general, the shape of the nest is designed to protect the hornets inside and keep them safe from predators and harsh weather conditions.


  • Nests can range from small to large, depending on the species
  • The size of the nest reflects the number of hornets it can accommodate

A hornet nest’s size can also differ significantly, with some nests being small and others quite large. The size of the nest is an indicator of the number of hornets it can house.


Hornets build their nests in various locations, including:

  • Trees
  • Shrubs
  • Buildings
  • Tree branches
  • Underground
  • Attics
  • Wall voids
  • Elevated areas

For example, the European hornet typically builds its nests in hollow trees, barns, sheds, attics, and wall voids of houses. On the other hand, the bald-faced hornet creates large aerial nests, as opposed to the yellowjacket relatives that build subterranean nests.

It’s essential to be aware of these characteristics to identify and deal with hornet nests effectively. Keep in mind, however, that it’s not advisable to tackle hornet nests on your own, as these insects can be aggressive and their stings quite painful. Instead, consider enlisting the help of a professional for safe and effective removal.

Building Process of Hornet Nests


Hornet nests are primarily made from chewed wood and saliva, which is combined to create a papery material called wood pulp. The hornets collect these materials using their powerful mandibles. Not only do they rely on wood, but they might also use mud and tree sap for building their nests.

Building Method

The building process of a hornet nest starts with the queen selecting an ideal location. Workers then begin to construct the nest by chewing bits of wood to form a pulp-like substance. They’ll mix this wood pulp with their saliva, creating a durable, papery material that is perfect for building nests. The workers shape this material into hexagonal cells for the insect’s residence.

Some common features of hornet nests include:

  • Single-layer construction
  • Hexagonal cell structure
  • Hanging from a tree branch or other structure

Colony Contribution

The entire hornet colony plays a role in constructing their nest, with specific tasks designated to different members. The queen is responsible for laying eggs and maintaining the colony, while the worker hornets take care of collecting materials and building the nest. They all work together to create a functional and protective home for themselves.

To give you a better understanding of how hornet nests compare to other insects, here’s a comparison table:

Insect Nest Material Nest Structure Colony Contribution
Hornet Wood pulp Single-layer, hexagonal cells Queen oversees, workers build
Bee Wax Multi-layered, hexagonal cells Queen lays eggs, workers build and manage

Different Types of Hornet Nests

Tree Nests

Tree nests can be found in various types of trees and appear as large, football-shaped structures. Hornets create these nests by chewing on wood fibers and mixing them with their saliva, forming a papery material that they use for their nest construction. Some examples of hornets that create tree nests are the baldfaced hornets.

Ground Nests

Ground nests are another type of hornet nest that can be found closer to or on the ground. Often, these nests are near the base of trees, in shrubbery, or even in abandoned rodent burrows. Ground nests can be slightly more challenging to identify due to their locations, but they typically have a similar papery appearance as tree nests.

Subterranean Nests

Subterranean nests are built underground by some hornet species, such as the Northern giant hornets, which usually nest in the ground but can also be found in tree cavities. These nests are often hidden and hard to spot, as they are usually concealed by grass or other vegetation. The entrance to the nest is usually quite small, but the actual size of the nest underground can be quite large.

Basketball Nests

Basketball nests are a term that describes the shape and size of a hornet nest rather than the location or specific species of hornets. These nests are roughly the size of a basketball and can be found hanging from branches or attached to other structures. Hornets that create nests of this size are often aggressive and may protect their nest vigorously.

Comparison Table

Type of Nest Location Examples Appearance
Tree Nests In trees, attached to branches Baldfaced Hornets Large, football-shaped
Ground Nests Near base of trees, in shrubbery N/A Similar to tree nests
Subterranean Underground Northern Giant Hornets Hidden, small entrance
Basketball Various locations N/A Roughly the size of a basketball

Lifecycle of a Hornet Nest


In spring, the overwintering queen emerges from her hiding place, such as leaf litter or tree bark. She is responsible for starting a new colony. During this time, she will construct a small nest and lay her first batch of eggs. As they hatch into larvae, the queen feeds them with food she gathers, like insects and nectar. After the larvae pupate and become adult workers, they assist the queen with chores, like nest expansion and hunting for the growing brood.


During summer, the hornet colony flourishes. The nest, which began as a small structure, grows rapidly and can reach considerable sizes. Worker hornets become very active, foraging for food and defending their territory. Inside the nest, new eggs are laid, and larvae develop in their chambers, getting fed and cared for by the adult workers.


As fall approaches, the nest’s focus shifts from raising workers to producing new queens and male hornets. These reproductive hornets leave the nest and mate. After mating, the males die, and the new queens seek out places to overwinter. Meanwhile, the remaining workers and the old queen slowly perish, leaving the nest to decay.


In winter, the hornet nest is abandoned, and no activity takes place within it. The new queens are safely tucked away in their overwintering spots, waiting for the arrival of spring to start the cycle anew.

Remember not to disturb a hornet nest, especially during its active season. Hornets play a crucial role in the ecosystem by controlling insect populations and pollinating plants. Respecting their natural life cycle allows them to continue these essential tasks.

Problems and Risks Associated with Hornet Nests

Stinging Threat

If you come across a hornet nest close to your home or yard, it poses a stinging threat. Hornets are typically unaggressive, but when they feel that their nest is disturbed, they can become aggressive and may sting to defend it1. Here are a few risks related to hornet stings:

  • Hornets can sting multiple times
  • Their venom can cause localized pain and swelling
  • Some people might experience an allergic reaction

Property Damage

In some cases, hornet nests can cause property damage. They often build their nests in trees, eaves, and attics2. Nested hornets can cause the following damages:

  • Chewed wood or insulation materials to build their nests
  • Stains on walls and ceilings from waste produced by the insects

Invasive Species

Invasive hornet species, like the Northern giant hornet, can cause problems in local ecosystems. They are predatory insects preying upon other insects, including local pollinators3. When their populations increase, they can lead to:

  • Disruption of the food chain in native habitats
  • Reduction in native plant pollination

In conclusion, hornets can pose risks to humans and the environment. Keep a safe distance from their nests and consult a professional for removal if necessary. Always stay alert and check your surroundings to avoid coming in contact with these insects.

Removal and Prevention of Hornet Nests

Professional Removal

If you come across a hornet nest on your property, consider hiring a professional to remove it, especially if it is located in a high-traffic area or near a building. Professionals have the necessary tools and experience to safely remove nests without harming the environment or provoking the hornets. They usually perform the removal at night when hornets are less active. A few benefits of professional removal are:

  • Safety: Experienced professionals use protective gear and specialized tools.
  • Efficiency: They know the best methods to remove the nest quickly and completely.
  • Peace of mind: You can be assured that the problem will be expertly handled.

DIY Methods

If you decide to tackle a hornet nest removal on your own, exercise caution and follow these tips:

  1. Wait for dusk or early night when hornets are less active.
  2. Wear protective clothing, including gloves and a face shield.
  3. Apply a pesticide approved for hornets, or use a combination of soap and water in a spray bottle.
  4. Be prepared to leave the area quickly if the hornets become aggressive.

Keep in mind that DIY methods can pose risks, and it is essential to weigh the pros and cons before proceeding:


  • Cost-effective: DIY methods usually require fewer financial resources.
  • Flexible timing: You can choose when to remove the nest according to your convenience.


  • Safety risks: Without professional training, you may be more susceptible to hornet stings or injury.
  • Incomplete removal: If not done correctly, the hornets could return to rebuild the nest.

Preventive Strategies

You can prevent hornet nests from forming in your garden or urban property with the following strategies:

  • Regularly inspect your property for signs of hornet activity, such as nests in bushes, trees, or buildings.
  • Seal any openings or crevices in your home, to prevent hornets from building nests inside.
  • Remove food sources, such as open garbage cans or pet food dishes, that may attract hornets.
  • Plant natural deterrents in your garden, like mint, eucalyptus, or wormwood.

Remember, hornets can be beneficial insects by controlling pests and acting as pollinators. However, if their presence poses a threat to you or your property, it’s essential to take appropriate measures to remove and prevent hornet nests.


  1. Should You Worry About Bald-Faced Hornets?

  2. Bee, wasp or hornet nest: Which one is it? | UMN Extension

  3. A Side by Side Comparison of the Northern Giant Hornet and Other …

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 – Oriental Hornet from Turkey


Giant Hornet in Turkey
Two thumbs up for a fascinating and informative website. We just got back from our vacation in Turkey. We have been there a total of 8 times but never seen this wasp/hornet on previous occasions. They were very numerous. We would see them each day at our hotel poolside, but nowhere else. Some would come to the overflow grating at the side of the pool and drink the water (see photo). Others would briefly bounce off the water in flight or even stay on the surface for a few seconds before flying off also apparently taking a drink. I guess that their wingspan would be getting on for 2”. I would be most interested to hear what species this is.
After some more surfing I now assume that the beast in question is a ‘Giant Hornet with local colour variation’ as it is differently marked than the one shown 5 from the top. Interestingly on the map which shows where hornets are to be found, the part of Turkey where I saw it is NOT included (”bottom left hand corner”). I guess they are spreading. Many thanks again for a brilliantly entertaining and informative website.
All the best
Chris Pinn

Hi Chris,
Sorry for the delay, but we are very busy lately and don’t have time to answer even a small portion of our email. We agree this is a hornet, but are not sure of the species. Lovely photo though.

Update (05/02/2006)
The Insect in the photo 10/26/2005 Turkish Hornet ( Chris Pinn Germany) is an Oriental Hornet ( Vespa Orientalis) whose range covers the eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian peninsula, Ethiopia and Somalia. All the Best
M. Leather

Letter 2 – Queen BaldFaced Hornet Builds Nest


Subject: Wasp or Hornet and nest???
Location: western Pennsylvania
May 28, 2014 9:31 am
My son and I watched a wasp or hornet create its intricate nest but are not sure which insect it is, so am seeking your wonderful help as I did so a few years ago with another insect. Thank you for any help you can give us.
Signature: Marge

Queen Bald Faced Hornet begins nest.
Queen Bald Faced Hornet begins nest.

Dear Marge,
My that queen BaldFaced Hornet is building that nest fast.  She will soon have a first generation of sterile female workers who begin hunting for food and enlarging the nest, freeing her to just lay eggs.  Are you able to avoid this part of the house until the first frost?  If not, you should consider more drastic measures and evict her so she finds a more secluded location for her nest because, according to the Penn State University Entomology website:  “In Pennsylvania, a large colony will have upwards of 300 individuals.”  BaldFaced Hornets are capable of stinging repeatedly and they will defend the nest.
  We will be flying into Pittsburgh in the middle of June.

Beginnings of a Bald Faced Hornet Nest
Beginnings of a Bald Faced Hornet Nest

Thank you Daniel,
You are right, she did build it fast.  I took photos and we watched almost every other hour.  (Few photos attached.)
We “evicted” her–sort of hated to do it, but that spot is on our back “stoop” and between my son cutting our grass and me working on 4 different gardens (I plant for birds, butterflies, etc.) we felt she needed to build her large but intricate nest/home somewhere else and wanted to evict her before she laid many or any eggs and started the process.  I don’t like to kill anything including bugs and their homes, so felt it better to encourage her to build elsewhere before she had a real home/palace : )
Thanks for your help, I did see that my oldest son had a fairly large nest in his backyard last year but it was not near where they were active themselves and we think it was “done” (at the beginning of fall).
Have a safe and joyful flight.
Marge from westernPA

Beginnings of a BaldFaced Hornet Nest
Beginnings of a BaldFaced Hornet Nest

Hi Marge,
We believe the eviction was a smart move due to the heavy foot traffic at the site.  Because of your thoughtfulness, we are tagging this posting with the Bug Humanitarian Award.

Bald Faced Hornet builds Nest
Bald Faced Hornet builds Nest

Letter 3 – Panamanian Wasp Nest


Not sure what this is
We took the attached picture in Panama last month. The ball shaped objest (nest?) was covered with the insects. The whole ball was about 5-6 inches across. We saw it nestled in the exposed roots of a tree.
Abe Ross

Hi Abe,
We believe your wasps are in the genus Polybia. That identification is based on images from this fascinating website.

Wow, I am impressed with the speed of your response. I neglected to mention altitude in my original inquiry but we took the picture on the side of Volcan Baru, above the town of Guadaloupe which is at 2130 meters. This fits with the web page description as a “high-elevation species.” Thanks for the answer and for the great web-site.
Abe Ross

Letter 4 – Queen Baldfaced Hornet


Subject: type of bee, wasp or hornet
Location: brooklyn, ny
April 6, 2013 10:18 am
brooklyn, nyelp me identify this? Found it in the winter mulch in one of my garden beds today as I started cleaning up for spring.
I didn’t move much, cleaned head and wings, took a few steps here and there, seemed interested in the wood chips.
Signature: thanks!

Queen Baldfaced Hornet
Queen Baldfaced Hornet

This is a queen Baldfaced Hornet and she is probably chewing wood into pulp in order to construct a paper nest.


  • 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.

8 thoughts on “Types of Hornet Nest: A Friendly Guide to Identification”

  1. I came across this page after a Google Search. I’ve spent many childhood holidays on the South & West coasts of Turkey and this beast is very common there. My dad tells me that the Turkish name he learnt for it was the “Donkey Wasp”, that they are unstable in nature and are quick to sting, and that (out of experience) the sting will give you a bump roughly the size of a tennisball 🙂

  2. Hello,

    I am Turkish and have lived in several cities around the country. In Turkish we call these bees ‘esek arisi’ which directly translates to ‘donkey bee’ in English (lol). I’m assuming this is because of their large size in contrast to the other species of bees found in Turkey. These bees are EVERYWHERE and especially common in cities near the sea. My grandpa has been stung by them before and says it is extremely painful. I also heard that a sting on the neck from one of these bees could kill you because your throat would swell up until you couldn’t breathe anymore.

  3. Hello,

    I am Turkish and have lived in several cities around the country. In Turkish we call these bees ‘esek arisi’ which directly translates to ‘donkey bee’ in English (lol). I’m assuming this is because of their large size in contrast to the other species of bees found in Turkey. These bees are EVERYWHERE and especially common in cities near the sea. My grandpa has been stung by them before and says it is extremely painful. I also heard that a sting on the neck from one of these bees could kill you because your throat would swell up until you couldn’t breathe anymore.

  4. I’m sitting on a yacht in Marmaris, when this thick red Bee wannabe thingy decides to land on my thigh.

    I screamed so loud, without daring to move, that the Turkish boy beside me gave me such a look of disgust.

  5. Just back from marmaris and one of these big buggers stung my middle finger, the pain was sever and my finger swelled badly and also had a massive blister the whole length of my finger.. it’s left a mess where it stung even 2 weeks later!! Stay away from them if possible


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