Hornets – A Quick Guide

What is a hornet?

They are a family of wasps considered one of the most highly organized in their respective family, resembling the common yellowjacket in their coloration. It should be highlighted that all hornets are wasps and that hornets are a type of wasp. They grow up to up to 1.2 inches (5.5 cm) in length and are very widely distributed throughout the world. It’s not uncommon to see them in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Hornets have a much thicker body, more reminiscent of bees than other types of wasp.

Hornets are considered aggressive, but most of them act in defense when they feel threatened. Because they can mobilize their entire nest to sting, and due to their sheer numbers – the insects are often considered a pest. It should be noted that many wasps sometimes called hornets are not true hornets. These include wasps such as the bald-faced hornet and giant ground hornets. The largest established true hornet in Europe and America is the European hornet (Vespa crabro).

European hornet
European hornet – Stefan Holm@123rf.com

Do hornets die after stinging? 

Hornets do not die after stinging. This is because hornets stingers are not barbed and so are not pulled out of their bodies. They can sting multiple times. After inflicting a sting they can continue with their business as if nothing happened. Wasp stings can be painful. While it does hurt, a hornet’s sting is typically not dangerous to humans unless you get stung quite a few times over short periods or have an allergic response.

Do hornets bite?

Hornets will typically use their sting as a defense mechanism, but they can bite too. Their mandibles are adapted to cutting and chewing their prey – under unusual circumstances, they may bite humans. The bite can be used as a way for the hornet to anchor itself in place while inflicting a sting.

Do hornets attack bees?

Hornets prey on insects, including honeybees. They are easily able to neutralize them by injecting their venom into their bodies or simply subdue and kill them with their mandibles. Hornets will mainly feed on nectar but the hornet larvae need insects for their development. Hornets will pick off individual hornets, chew them and then return them to nest as food for the larvae.

Hornet species such as the Asian giant hornet have been known to devastate colonies of honey bees in seconds. It’s estimated that they can take down 40 bees a minute should they see fit. They are quite the accomplished predator in not just their families – but the insect world in general.

Are hornets active at night?

Hornets are not naturally a nocturnal creature – but they are active at night. This is because most species of hornets are attracted to lights. Considering that much of the planet is covered in artificial light such as lampposts and home lights, it’s not unusual to see hornets gathering around the shining rays. It is thought that they use this opportunity for hunting.

Most sightings of hornets at night come around windows – where people hear hornets hitting the glass of their homes. Hornets continue with their business throughout most of the day and night – but they will be most inactive in the early hours of the morning when they tend to rest. See more about wasps seeing at night here.

Do hornets fly in the rain?

The strength and diligence of a hornet will enable the insect to survive in the rain. However, the creatures are not big fans of heavy or excessive storms. The falling water can severely hinder a hornet’s ability to carry out its duties. It will slow it down and weigh on the bug, making it hard to fly.

The rain also creates issues for hornets’ food sources. The insects like to feed on sugar-rich foods – the water dilutes tree sap, leaves, and insects carrying similar properties. Furthermore, the rains can flood hornets’ nests. Read more about wasps flying in rain here.

Do hornets die in cold weather? 

These creatures are commonly associated with spring and summer, where humans see their nests sprouting up everywhere. Hornets and other members of their insect family are not adapted to survive colder temperatures. You will find that the majority of hornets will die in the late fall and wintertime. Read more here.

The only survivors of the cold temperatures will be the inseminated queens – responsible for laying the eggs to keep the colonies alive. The eggs will hatch around early spring, where newly born hornets will develop and then get to work. Each nest can give way to approximately 700 insects.

Do hornets hibernate?

Hibernation practices are typically in parallel to outside temperatures. Animals who do not endure the cold hibernate in their nests or habitats. Hornets, however, barely survive at all – apart from their queen. The monarchs are the only family member to hibernate through the winter temperatures to keep the society alive.

The mated queens tend to hibernate in crevasses, bark, or in a dark burrow. These serve as protection points for the main hornet, as they will have no other insects around them to watch out for their nest – given that they have all perished. Once spring comes around, they will emerge from hibernation to construct a new nest.

Do hornets burrow underground?

Most hornets typically build their nests overground. It is rare to see habitats in underground areas, but not unheard of. Some hornets have been known to take up residence in underground places such as basements or abandoned rodent caves. They do not naturally burrow, however.

There are a few exceptions such as the Asian giant hornet, which burrow underground. It should be noted that the great ground hornet, or cicada killer, is not a true hornet and is actually a type of digger wasp.

Do hornets build nests?

Hornets do build nests that serve as the center point of their colony and society. They construct their nests by chewing wood into a paper-like pulp and then use their saliva as an adhesive to glue it all together. The hornets often choose areas to build nests where there are shade and shelter. Also, locales that include aspects of protection from potential threats.

Hornets’ nests, like other social wasps, are ruled by a hierarchy. The queen is the most important of the bunch – where her subordinates will fiercely protect from any intruders. These defense ideals are what contribute to hornets being so aggressive when humans cross their nests.

Do hornets collect pollen?

While often confused, bees are the insects that collect pollen – hornets do not. Hornets get their protein from insect sources whereas most bees are vegetarian and derive protein from pollen. That is not to say that hornets do not visit flowers. They consume nectar and in the process will spread pollen, but they do not collect it.

What do hornets eat?

Hornets will be found eating objects that are rich in proteins and sugars. When hornets are most active in spring and summer, you will see them mainly feeding on rotting fruits and nectar. Any leftover foodstuffs containing a sustainable amount of sugar will also be consumed. Hornets can find their way into fruit-orchards where they become a pest to the farmer.

The hornets will also feed on other insects making them a predator. They will be seen killing bees, caterpillars, crickets, and grasshoppers. While they can feed on insect fluids most of the captured insects will be returned to the nest to feed the larvae. Even other members of the wasp family will be killed at times. The creatures have quite a varied appetite.

Do hornets feel pain?

We can not know if hornets feel emotional pain but is unlikley. However, a close study has indicated that they can be aware of any distress inflicted on their bodies or societies. They get angry and attack if you threaten their nests. Read more about wasps and pain here.

Do hornets have queens?

Like other social wasps, hornet societies always have a queen. She is the most paramount community member and founder, making sure that the colony carries over to the next generation. New queens are the only surviving members of a colony, going into hibernation when the cold weather comes around.

Every other hornet in the immediate community serves the queen – gathering food, building nests, feeding the young, and protecting the colony. Males’ only role is to mate with new queens.

Are hornets good for anything?

Many people only see hornets as pests. They do serve a functional purpose in the bigger picture, however. One of the main benefits of a hornet is helping control other insect populations given their predatory status. Beetles, flies, and caterpillars potentially could spiral out of control without them, wreaking havoc on farms and other ecologically significant elements. They also play an important role as pollinators. Read More.