Hornet

Last updated: November 15, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Elina Litovkina/Shutterstock.com

Hornets are a type of wasp.

Hornet Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Arthropoda
Class
Insecta
Order
Hymenoptera
Family
Vespidae
Genus
Vespa

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Hornet Conservation Status

Hornet Locations

Hornet Locations

Hornet Facts

Prey
Bees, grasshoppers, other insects
Main Prey
Honeybees
Name Of Young
Larvae
Group Behavior
  • Colony
Fun Fact
Hornets are a type of wasp.
Most Distinctive Feature
Large heads and abdomens
Gestation Period
2 weeks
Temperament
Aggressive when threatened
Age Of Independence
1 month
Habitat
Hive
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Colony
  • Social
Favorite Food
Honeybees for larvae, fleshy fruit for adults
Number Of Species
19
Nesting Location
Hive

Hornet Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • White
Length
1-2 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
1 month
Venomous
Yes
Aggression
High

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View all of the Hornet images!



If you’ve ever been stung by a Hornet, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to recognize these aggressive insects in the future.

Not only are their stings particularly painful, they can also swarm attack if they feel that their hive is threatened. While they eat nectar and plants like many other insects, they also feed on bees, grasshoppers, and other insects for protein sources. There are over 20 species of Hornets which live in Europe, Asia, and North America.

Hornet Facts

  • The only true Hornet that lives in North America is the European Hornet, Vespa crabro, which was brought to the US by European settlers.
  • Hornets are similar in appearance and behavior to Yellowjackets, but the two belong to different genera.
  • Hornets are a type of wasp, although they only make up a small portion of the Vespidae family.
  • When they sting, hornets inject venom into their victim. When stinging other insects, this is enough to kill their prey. In people and most animals, it is enough to cause pain and swelling at the sting site.
  • Some people are allergic to Hornets, which can result in severe reactions. These can include severe swelling and constricted airways that make it impossible to breathe. Hornet stings can be treated by EpiPens and can require immediate medical care.

Hornet Species, Type, and Scientific Name

Hornets are all species belonging to the Vespa genus. There are 22 species within the genus, which live all over the world. They are often named based on their location, such as the European Hornet which is native to Europe but is now found in North America as well. The type species is Vespa crabro, the European Hornet. This species is thought to be the best reference for any study about the genus as a whole.

These insects belong to the Vespidae family, along with other types of wasps. Members of this family can be social species, such as hornets, or solitary species. They are part of the Hymenoptera order. Other members of this order include bees and ants. There are more than 150,000 species within the Hymenoptera order. While the 22 species of Hornets do not account for a large portion, they have made a name for themselves.

It’s important to distinguish hornets from yellowjackets, which some people refer to as hornets. Yellowjackets are members of the Vespula genus and are closely related to hornets. However, they are two different genera.

Hornets are part of the Insecta class, Arthropoda phylum, and Animalia kingdom. Understanding where these animals fit in within the larger context helps scientists learn more about them as well as make sure that they remain a critical part of the ecosystem.



Appearance: How to Identify Hornets

Hornets are black and yellow, like many other stinging insects in their family. They have six legs and wings that allow them to fly. Hornets can get up to 2 inches long. The largest hornet was 2.2 inches long.

They have larger heads than other similar stinging insects, which is one of the best ways to distinguish them from bees or yellowjackets. Their waists, which connect their heads to their abdomens, are also thicker than those of yellowjackets.

Compared to bees and other wasps, Hornets also have darker heads and abdomens. They are dark orange with black segments. Their wings are dark orange-brown and translucent.

Deadliest Animals in America
Single Hornets are not normally aggressive but the swarm will vigorously protect their queen and nests if threatened.

Ruzy Hartini/Shutterstock.com

Habitat: Where to Find Hornets

The only Hornet that lives in North America is the European Hornet, which was brought to the US by European settlers. It also spread to parts of Russia and Asia. It is the most well-known and widespread species of hornet.

Other species, such as the Asian Giant Hornet or Vespa mandarinia, live in Asia. This Hornet is common in Japan but also lives in China, Korea, Taiwan, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, India, and parts of Russia. The Oriental Hornet, Vespa orientalis, also lives in southern Asian countries, parts of Russia, parts of Europe, and many countries in the Middle East, including Iran, Afghanistan, Oman, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan.

Hornets live in trees and bushes, higher up than some other stinging insects that will build hives on the ground. They build their hives by chewing up wood and making a paste out of it with their saliva. Each hive has a queen Hornet, who begins the building process in the spring. Some species will build their hives just about anywhere, while others actively look for something sheltered from the elements, such as a hollowed-out tree trunk.

Each hive can have hundreds of workers. The queen begins the first generation by laying eggs in the small hive that she builds. As these eggs hatch and develop into adults, which takes around four weeks total, they take on the building tasks so that the queen can continue to lay eggs.

Diet: What Do Hornets Eat?

Unlike other stinging insects such as bees and other wasps, Hornets are omnivores. While they do enjoy sweet fruit and nectar, they also feed on other insects. They tend to eat the fleshy parts of fruit and plants, such as overripe peaches or apples, rather than nectar from flowers.

They also attack other insects to get protein. The larvae need this protein to grow and develop into adult Hornets. Adult Hornets will attack bees, other wasps, grasshoppers, and cicadas with their stingers. Their venom quickly kills their prey. After that, the hornet chews the insect to a pulp, which it then feeds to the larvae. Many species prefer honeybees and can actually seek them out for prey.

Prevention: How to Get Rid of Hornets

Hornets can cause significant problems, especially for those who are allergic. If you have a known allergy to other stinging insects, you may also be allergic to Hornets. Hornet stings are painful, even for those who are not allergic. They can swell and develop a rash as well as pain at the site. For those with allergies, a severe reaction can lead to constricted airways and painful swelling. This almost always requires fast medical intervention.

If you see a hive of Hornets, it’s best to contact a removal professional rather than try to take care of it yourself. Their hives can be located in secluded places, such as hollow tree trunks or even behind the siding of your house. Trying to get rid of a couple of Hornets can quickly turn into a swarm attack. This can be dangerous, even if you are not allergic to Hornets.

Hornets are social insects. This means that they attack together when they feel that their hive is threatened. They give off a pheromone that signals to the other Hornets that it is time to act in defense of the hive. These pheromones can attach to your clothing, which leads other Hornets to attack after you have killed one or more of them. Because they are so aggressive, it’s best to let a pro take care of them with specialized equipment and protective gear.

If you see a Hornet nest in the wild, it’s actually good to just leave it alone. They can pollinate plants as they fly around and also eat some other insects, such as mosquitos or flies. Even though they can be a pest and dangerous around homes, Hornets are a vital part of the ecosystem in the wild.

Similar Insects to Hornets

Yellowjackets: These stinging insects look and act similar to Hornets, leading many to confuse the two. Yellowjackets are also wasps but belong to the Vespula or Dolichovespula genera.

Bald-faced Hornet: While their name suggests that they are a Hornet, these insects are actually species of yellowjacket. They are known by the scientific name Dolichovespula maculata. It is easy to recognize because of the black and white coloring on its head.

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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie is a Teaching Artist with The APEX Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland and was awarded an Author Fellowship to Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She also enjoys spending time with her three kids and cat.

Hornet FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can a hornet hurt you?

Hornet stings are painful and can cause a severe reaction in those who are allergic. While most people recover from a hornet sting without issue, those who experience an allergic reaction usually need medical care immediately.

Are hornets aggressive?

Single hornets looking for food are usually not aggressive unless they feel threatened. When they feel threatened or you get too close to their nest, hornets can become very aggressive. They are social insects and will attack as a group if they feel they need to defend their hive.

What is worse, a hornet or a wasp?

A hornet is actually a type of wasp. Generally, hornet stings are some of the most painful among wasp species. Other wasps can be more aggressive and more easily provoked to defend their hives, however.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Terminix, Available here: https://www.terminix.com/blog/bug-facts/what-does-a-hornet-look-like/#:~:text=Hornets%20tend%20to%20have%20reddish,Hornets%20are%20social%20insects.
  2. National Geographic, Available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/facts/hornets
  3. Washington State Dept. of Agriculture, Available here: https://agr.wa.gov/hornets

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