Hornet Control: Protect Your Home
Scientific Classification: Vespa crabro
European hornets are the only true hornets to populate North America, as most other species, such as the bald-faced hornet, are technically classified as wasps. Originating in Europe, the pest was introduced to New York in the 1850s. Since its introduction, the European hornet has persisted as a prominent Mid-Atlantic pest. Though the insect does not default to aggressive tendencies, workers will tenaciously defend nests. As the pests frequently take advantage of the warmth and shelter provided by manmade structures by building nests in walls and attics, European hornets can prove dangerous to Mid-Atlantic residents.
What Do They Look Like?
Size: European hornets are quite large. Colony workers tend to be just under 1 inch (25 mm) in length, while the queens of the colony grow as large as 1.4 inches (35 mm).
Color: The abdomen of the European hornet is largely yellow with distinctive black markings, whereas the rest of the body appears brown to reddish-brown in color.
Characteristics: The most distinguishing characteristic of the hornet is the patterned black markings on the abdomen of the pest. Pest control professionals often use the distinctive markings to determine the species. Additionally, European hornets possess antennae and six legs. They are long, robust, and have pale faces.
As the name of the pest would suggest, European hornets are found in England and throughout Europe. The insects also populate parts of Asia, Madagascar, and Canada. In the United States, European hornets are found throughout the Northeastern states. Their presence extends as far west as the Dakotas and as far south as Louisiana.
What Do They Eat?
Adults and developing European hornets stick to different diets. During development, larvae are fed insects, such as caterpillars and flies, as well as fresh animal carrion and prepared meat pieces. Worker hornets chew and condition the food for the larvae. In return, the larvae secrete a sugary substance for the adults to eat. Adult European hornets also consume fruit juices and scavenge human foods and beverages.
European hornets are social insects that live in colonies containing an average of 200 to 400 workers, though colonies can grow as large as 1,000 workers. During the fall, males and females will mate to produce queen hornets. While the workers and old queens of the colonies die each winter, new fertilized queens overwinter in protected areas under loose bark, inside trees, or in the walls of buildings. When they first emerge in the spring, the queen hornets establish new nests and deposit an initial batch of about 10 to 20 eggs. The queen works to nurture the eggs while also collecting wood to make the paper-like substance used to build nests.
Once the first batch of worker hornets undergoes complete metamorphosis and can take over egg-raising and caregiving duties, the queen settles into her role as reproducer. Colony numbers and activity peak during the late summer and early fall. By late autumn, the new queens are produced and the process repeats each year.
- Look for adult workers in or around homes.
- May notice nearby shrubs and trees stripped of bark.
- May spot nests poking from wall cavities usually six feet (two meters) or more above ground level.
Problems Caused by Hornets
If European hornets feel threatened, they will become aggressive. Their stings can cause an allergic reaction with symptoms like dry hacking, constriction of the throat or chest, wheezing, accelerated pulse, severe drop in blood pressure, rash, panic, loss of bladder or bowel control, dizziness, confusion, and loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, allergic individuals may die 15 to 30 minutes after being stung without treatment. Additionally, hornets often damage trees and shrubs while building their nests.
Signs of Infestation
As European hornets build nests in cavity-like spaces, colonies often occur in tree hollows, wall voids, attics, and similar locations. The most prominent clue that hornets have infested the home is the sighting of adult worker hornets during the day or at night. In addition, though the bulk of the nest typically remains out of sight from humans, parts of the gray, papery material may be visible on the outer walls of homes.
The best way to prevent a hornet infestation centers on eliminating conditions that may attract the pests to the building. Since fruit serves as a significant food source for adults, promptly removing fallen fruits from yards helps deter hornets from gathering. Unique among their relatives, European hornets forage at both at night and during the day and are attracted to bright lighting. Using dull yellow bulbs in porch lights and other exterior lighting fixtures therefore serves as another helpful preventative measure. Finally, caulking cracks eliminates points of entry into the home.
Tips for Removal from Home
Never attempt to remove a hornet’s nest without the help of a pest control specialist, as the nest must be treated with insecticides. Plugging the entrance to the nest will only cause damage by leading the hornets to escape into the living areas of the house. Professionals possess the appropriate certifications and licenses to handle the necessary chemicals safely. Furthermore, hornets will attempt to protect the nest by stinging, which requires the handler to wear specialized clothing and protective gear.