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.
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.
Hornets feed on leaves, tree sap, plant nectar, and other insects like flies and bees.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The most apparent signs of a hornet infestation are the presence of a nest and adult hornets in or around your home or buildings.
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:
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.
Infested with wasps? Learn more about how to get rid of wasps.
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