What are Hornets?

Hornets (scientific name Vespa) are wasps, and share similarities with Yellow Jackets. This helps explain why many confuse wasps and hornets and tend to use their names interchangeably.

Worldwide, there are approximately 20 hornet species, with most residing in Asia. Hornets also call home to Africa, Europe and North America. Interestingly, there is only a single true hornet species, which is the Vespa Crabro, found in the United states. This hornet is commonly known as the “European Hornet” and was introduced to the U.S. from Europe). Here in Canada, the most common ‘hornet ‘is the bald-faced hornet (or white-faced hornet), which is not a true hornet. It is closer to a yellow jacket wasp. Learn more about the bald-faced hornet.

Hornets are social wasps that construct nests, in which they live as a community with a caste system. The colonies are dominated by a queen hornet, which are the only female hornets that reproduce. The infertile female works take on the important roles of expanding the nest (or hive), searching for food, caring for the queen and her young, as well as protecting the nest from threats. There are very few male hornets in a colony, and their singular role is to mate with the queen. Shortly after mating they die.


What do Hornet Look Like?

Hornets average 1 to 1.5 inches in length. They have 6 legs and 2 wing pairs. The queen hornet is usually the largest hornet in a colony. The European hornet's body is reddish brown in colour, while the bald-faced hornet is looks like a large yellow jacket with ivory-white colouring on its face and body.

               A true hornet - European hornet        A bald-faced hornet


What do Hornets Eat?

Hornets feed on leaves, tree sap, plant nectar, and other insects like flies and bees.


What does a Hornet Nest look like?

Hornet nests are built from a paper-like material that is derived from the hornet’s saliva and wood fibers. They can be observed physically scraping away thin layers of wood from old logs, fences, and buildings. Nests are started by the queen and are expanded on by workers.

Hornet nests are typically located in covered areas, such as in or atop trees or in attic rafters. They have been found to next on the exterior of the home, garage, shed or barn, near soffit (around attics), in porch ceilings, and even gutter and shingles. Some hornets will nest in the ground, away from areas of vegetation. Inside a home, their nests have been found in attics, crawl spaces, wall voids, basements, dryer vents and around pipe and other opening which lead to the inside from outdoors.

A hornet nest hanging from a home


The Lifecycle of a Hornet

Hornets typically have a one-year life cycle. In early spring, the fertilized females (from the previous generation of hornets) who survived overwintering, will emerge to become new queen hornets, upon finding a new lest location (typically near her overwinter location), she will start building her new nest and lay her fertilized eggs in the individual cells within the nest.

Once the eggs hatch to larvae, she focused on caring for them, and expanding the nest until they pupate (cocoon) and mature into adult infertile female hornets. This first generation of hornets will fill the role of worker, committed to expanding the nest, searching for food and caring for the queen and her young. The queen returns her focus to egg laying and building her colony.

In late summer to early fall, the queen lays eggs which will develop into adult male and fertile female hornets. They will leave the nest to mate. Male hornets die shortly after mating, and the newly fertilized females leave to find protective shelter for overwintering. These new queens will be the only survivors of the colony once winter sets in. They will also be responsible for the new generation of hornet in the following spring


Do Hornets Sting or Bite?

Yes, hornets will sting if they are provoked or if they feel their nest is threatened.  They can also sting more than once. Stings can be very painful (more painful than a wasp sting), and cause swelling and redness around the sting site. Some people have mild to severe allergic reactions to a hornet sting.  If you have any concerns after being stung by a hornet, seek professional medical assistance.


Damage Caused by Hornets

Hornets are a serious pest to people and pets because they will defend their nest aggressively if they feel threatened. While their sting is painful, more serious is the severe allergic reactions a sting (or multiple stings) can cause in some people. Hornets are a beneficial insect to us because they aid in controlling common nuisance insects that we do not want in our homes or businesses.


How Does a Hornet Infestation Happen?

Queen hornets will overwinter in sheltered locations to survive the winter and emerge in the spring to start the next generation of hornets. In their pursuit for protected cover in the late summer and fall, they enter homes through accessible entry points. In the spring, when they become active, their typically build their nests close to their overwinter location. These nests grow as the colony grows, which can mean hundreds or thousands of hornets.


Signs of a Hornet Infestation

The most apparent signs of a hornet infestation are the presence of a nest and adult hornets in or around your home or buildings.


How to Get Rid of Hornets

As new nests are typically built in locations close to where the queens overwintered, hornet-proofing your home and business helps to reduce the chances of fertilized female hornets gaining access, and therefore decreases the chances of an infestation the following year. 

We advise against DIY hornet pest control due to the aggressive nature of hornets, especially when colonies are large.

Here are some helpful tips to prevent a hornet infestation:

  • Inspect the exterior of your home or structures to identify cracks, crevices or openings for hornets and other insects, which provide a food supply for hornets.
  • Use a good quality silicone or silicone-latex caulk to seal exterior cracks, crevices, gaps and holes around windows, doors, siding, eaves and fascia boards, roof joints, behind chimneys and places where utility pipes, plumbing, wires or cables enter the building.
    • DO NOT SEAL these if there is a known or suspected hornet issue inside them. In our experience this causes a larger issue that can become impossible to treat. 
    • Sealing these entry points to a non-visible hornet nest will trap them inside, and push the hornet population further into your home or business structure. They will seek to find a way out, which may lead them right inside your home, business or cottage.
    • Wasps can and will chew through drywall, emerge from baseboards, light fixtures, etc. causing concern and fear. Depending on the size of the colony living in the non-visible hornet nest, the number of insects that can invade indoors can be very large.
  • Repair holes in damaged window and door screens.
  • Install or repair screens in roof and soffit vents.
  • Eliminate preferred nesting sites, by trimming back trees, shrubs and bushes.
  • Remove old, non-active hornet (and wasp) nests from previous seasons.
  • Store garbage and recycling with tight-fitting covers away from your home or business, or high traffic areas, especially in summer months, when you may be entertaining more outside, or have more foot-traffic; regular clean these.
  • In the summer, help keep hornets away during your picnics, BBQs and parties by keeping your food sealed in airtight containers and cleaning up spills promptly.


If you have a hornet infestation in your home or business, or concerns about an active nest, contact a licensed pest control professional to help you safely get rid of hornets.

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