Types of Hornets and Which Ones Are Most Aggressive

Written by Lev Baker
Updated: September 9, 2023
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From the more docile species that rarely sting humans to the notoriously aggressive ones that will attack anything that comes near their nest, understanding the differences between these hornet types can be crucial to staying safe in their presence. In this article, we’ll explore the 22 types of these buzzing creatures and find out which hornets are the most aggressive. 

1. Lesser Banded Hornet (Vespa affinis)

The lesser banded hornet is a common species that lives in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia. It has a black body with a bright orange or yellow band on its abdomen. These hornets exhibit a range of sizes, with worker hornets reaching up to 0.8 inches and queens growing up to around 1 inch in length.

The lesser banded hornet has a flexible diet and feeds on tree sap, nectar, fruits, and larvae. They usually build their nests above ground on trees, bushes, shrubs, and buildings.

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The aggressive behavior of the lesser banded hornet, when provoked, combined with their tendency to construct nests in easily disturbed areas, has earned them the reputation of being one of the most dangerous hornets.

The lesser banded hornet has a black body with a bright orange or yellow band on its abdomen.

©Nawang Kasrini/Shutterstock.com

2. Yellow-Vented Hornet (Vespa analis)

The yellow-vented hornet, a common species found in Southeast Asia, displays varying colors and patterns but is typically black with a yellow mark on its abdomen’s sixth segment. Adults range in size from 0.78 to 1.2 inches. 

Their diet consists of honeybees, dragonflies, and butterflies. They build their oversized nests in trees, usually 6 to 10 feet off the ground. Unlike some Southeast Asian hornet species, they do not scavenge for dead animals or human food.

Although typically regarded as not aggressive, the species has caused several attacks in Japan, which may be attributed to its nesting near human habitats.

3. Black-Bellied Hornet (Vespa basalis)

The black-bellied hornet, indigenous to Taiwan, is a species with limited information available. However, it is one of the island’s most dangerous hornets due to its venom, which can induce edema. This medical condition involves fluid buildup in tissues, causing swelling typically in the legs and arms. 

In 2019, a black-bellied hornet was observed and documented in British Columbia, Canada. Yet, the absence of further sightings suggests that it may not have successfully formed a local population within the area.

It’s worth noting that the black-bellied hornet is part of the Vespidae family, which includes social wasps and hornets. They tend to construct large paper nests in trees, bushes, or on the sides of buildings.

The black-bellied hornet is one of Taiwan’s most dangerous hornets due to its venom, which can induce edema.

©Young Swee Ming/Shutterstock.com

4. Warlike Hornet (Vespa bellicosa)

The warlike hornet, a rare species, only lives in the lowland tropical forests of Sumatra and Borneo. Regrettably, minimal information exists about this hornet due to a lack of research, leaving its behavior and traits largely unknown. 

Despite its name implying its aggressive nature, there is a lack of evidence to support this claim.

5. Black Shield Wasp (Vespa bicolor)

The black shield wasp is a hornet species that lives in various regions such as China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, India, and Nepal. Interestingly, this hornet is an effective pollinator of orchids. However, it also preys on honey bees, making it a significant threat to beekeeping industries.

Sporting a yellow body with black patches on its head and back, Vespa bicolor is the most common large wasp species in Hong Kong that thrives in diverse environments, including areas near human settlements. 

While it may sting humans and animals, it is unclear whether this hornet is naturally aggressive.

The black shield wasp is an effective pollinator of orchids.


6. Bingham’s Hornet (Vespa binghami)

Vespa binghami, also known as Bingham’s hornet, lives in several countries, such as Russia, Thailand, Laos, China, India, Korea, and Myanmar. Their maximum size is 1.2 inches. 

These hornets have unique physical characteristics, with the color of their bodies varying depending on their location. For example, the hornets discovered in Southeast Asia display brown-colored bodies with yellow-colored heads. In contrast, those found in Russia and Korea have predominantly brown-colored bodies with yellow markings on their abdomens. 

Despite their range, not much is known about the behavior and stinging habits of Vespa Bingham due to their rarity in the wild.

7. European Hornet (Vespa crabro)

The European hornet is a prevalent type of hornet in North America.

Native to Europe, these hornets measure roughly 3/4 to 1 and 3/8 inches in length and display a brown hue with yellow bands on their abdomen and a pale-colored face. They build fragile, tan-hued paper nests in hidden locations such as hollow trees, barns, outbuildings, attics, and abandoned bee hives.

Their primary food sources include sizable insects such as flies, grasshoppers, yellow jackets, and bees. Though they typically do not display aggression, they possess the ability to sting when sensing a threat.

The European hornet’s primary food sources include flies, grasshoppers, yellow jackets, and bees.


8. Black-Tailed Hornet (Vespa ducalis)

The black-tailed hornet is a permanent resident in several Asian countries and is identifiable by its unique black tail.

This hornet measures between 0.9 to 1.5 inches. The larvae of Vespa ducalis primarily feed on paper wasp pupae and larvae, and adult hornets typically attack paper wasp nests to hunt for them. Vespa ducalis colonies are the smallest in the Vespa genus and typically contain approximately 50 hornets. Their underground nests are their preferred habitat.

It is hard to say whether these hornets are aggressive since no data is available to describe their behavior.

The black-tailed hornet typically measures between 0.9 to 1.5 inches.

©Dark Egg/Shutterstock.com

9. Black Hornet (Vespa dybowskii)

The black hornet is a rare and uncommon species found in various Asian countries. The hornet’s body predominantly features the color black, while its head and thorax exhibit reddish-brown lateral aspects. Its size ranges from approximately 0.6 to 1.2 inches in length. 

This species typically constructs nests in above-ground cavities. Interestingly, it is a social parasite of Vespa crabro and occasionally Vespa simillima. The queen of the black hornet takes control of the other species’ nests and manages to persuade the workers to raise her own brood. 

The black hornet is famous for its aggressive nature, as it tends to attack individuals who disturb or provoke its nest. It is also with noting that this hornet has a painful sting, and its venom may result in a severe reaction in some individuals. However, thankfully, the black hornet is rarely encountered by humans.

10. Vespa fervida

The Vespa fervida is a small, dark-colored wasp species with a restricted distribution on several Indonesian islands. These wasps construct their nests in forested regions and have also been observed building nests in close proximity to human settlements, often beneath leaves or on fences.

The available data on this species is currently limited, which makes it challenging to provide more comprehensive details.

11. Vespa fumida

A comprehensive description of this species cannot be provided at the moment since no information is available. Further research is needed.

12. Vespa luctuosa

Known for its highly toxic venom, Vespa luctuosa is a unique species that lives exclusively in the Philippines. It is notable for constructing hanging nests primarily in trees and shrubs, with rare instances of nest-building in human structures and homes.

When it comes to dangerous hornets, Vespa luctuosa ranks among the top. Its venom possesses the highest documented toxicity to mice compared to all other tested wasp species. In fact, the toxicity of Vespa luctuosa venom surpasses that of the larger Asian giant hornet.

Beyond being the most venomous known wasp, Vespa luctuosa venom stands out for its exceptional potency among all identified insect venoms. However, due to its potentially fatal nature, it is advisable to refrain from disturbing this hornet and its natural habitat.

13. Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia)

The Asian giant hornet, also known as the murder hornet, is a formidable and dangerous insect that hails from Asia. It has a large size, reaching up to 2.5 inches in some cases. It features a light orange head, brown antennae with a yellow-orange base, and dark brown to black eyes and ocelli. 

These hornets prefer habitats in low mountains and forests, avoiding plains and high-altitude regions. They construct nests by repurposing tunnels made by rodents. Their diet consists mainly of other eusocial insect colonies, tree sap, larger insects, and honey from bee colonies.

While generally not aggressive towards humans, they will sting if provoked or while protecting their nest or attacking beehives. Although rare, mass hornet attacks can cause severe harm or even death.

The Asian giant hornet is dangerous to humans and poses a significant threat to honeybees. One of the most frightening aspects of this hornet is its ability to eliminate entire honeybee colonies quickly. This is accomplished through group attacks, in which a small number of hornets can kill thousands of bees in just a matter of hours.

The Asian giant hornet is dangerous to humans and poses a significant threat to honeybees.


14. Mocsarian Hornet (Vespa mocsaryana)

The Mocsarian hornet, deriving its name from a Hungarian village, primarily inhabits select Asian countries such as India and China. These hornets commonly construct their nests within shrubbery. 

Unfortunately, limited information exists regarding this particular species, making it challenging to offer comprehensive details about its characteristics.

15. Vespa multimaculata

Vespa multimaculata inhabits the lowland and montane forests of Southeast Asia exclusively, displaying minimal chances of migrating to temperate regions. They tend to build their nests beneath the root systems of trees hidden within the ground. 

More research is required to gain comprehensive insights into the behavioral patterns of this species of hornet.

16. Oriental Hornet (Vespa orientalis)

The Oriental hornet lives in various regions, including Asia, Europe, and even South America. Vespa orientalis exhibits a reddish-brown hue with distinctively thick yellow bands on its abdomen and yellow patches on the head between its eyes.

In terms of diet, adult hornets consume nectar and fruits as well as actively scavenge for animal proteins and insects to nourish their offspring. These hornets pose a significant threat to honey bees as they target bee colonies. The Oriental hornet constructs its nests underground and is primarily non-aggressive, but its sting can cause considerable pain to humans.

Interestingly, the venom of these hornets holds potential for therapeutic purposes. Additionally, the Oriental hornet possesses powerful jaws and may resort to biting if provoked.

Incredibly, the Oriental hornet is also known for its ability to harvest solar energy. Researchers have found that the yellow stripes on its abdomen contain a pigment called xanthopterin that can absorb sunlight and transform it into electrical energy. The Oriental hornet has been studied for its potential as a model for designing solar cells that can be more efficient in converting sunlight into energy.

The Oriental hornet possesses powerful jaws and may resort to biting if provoked.


17. Philippine Hornet (Vespa philippinensis)

Vespa philippinensis, commonly known as the Philippine hornet, is an uncommon hornet species discovered exclusively on the Philippine Islands, particularly on Negros Island. This species builds its nests underground and shares a physical resemblance to Vespa tropica

As of now, researchers have documented only a single instance of locating and collecting a hornet colony, resulting in scarce information about this particular species. Due to a lack of information, it is hard to say whether this hornet is aggressive or not. 

18. Yellow Hornet (Vespa simillima)

The yellow hornet, commonly found in regions like China, the Korean Peninsula, and Siberia, stands out with its dark yellow color and hairy appearance. This particular hornet species boasts the largest swarms, consisting of approximately 1,000 to 2,000 diligent workers. 

However, their dominance is threatened by the Asian giant hornet, which preys on them, often resulting in deserted nests after attacks by groups of only 10 to 30 Asian giant hornets. 

Known for their aggressive nature, yellow hornets pose a significant danger to humans as they launch assaults in larger numbers.

The yellow hornet boasts large swarms consisting of approximately 1,000 to 2,000 individuals.

©Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock.com

19. Southern Giant Hornet (Vespa soror)

The southern giant hornet, native to Asia, is one of the largest members of the hornet species.

These hornets construct their nests underground and usually inhabit forested regions. They display fierce predatory behavior, often targeting the nests of honeybees, wasps, and smaller hornet species.

Vespa soror, in particular, exhibits group attacks on bee colonies, where they land at the entrances, gnawing and causing extensive harm to adult defenders. They carry away the deceased bees and brood, leading to the potential destruction of an entire colony. Due to their aggressive nature, they will not hesitate to sting any intruders.

20. Greater Banded Hornet (Vespa tropica)

The tropical species known as the greater banded hornet is primarily found in Southern Asia. Its head is dark reddish-brown, while its abdomen is black, with a prominent yellow stripe covering a significant portion of the second abdominal segment.

Vespa tropica engages in nest raids, targeting other wasp species and seizing their larvae. These captured larvae are then transported back to the hornet’s own nest as food for their own offspring. Honeybees are often observed as frequent prey.

When in close proximity to human settlements, this hornet species tends to establish nests under roofs, attics, and sheds. It is crucial to note that its wide distribution has resulted in numerous attacks. Additionally, the species possesses potent venom, with reports of excruciating stings, including the most painful ever recorded from an exceptionally large individual.

greater banded hornet

The greater banded hornet engages in nest raids, targeting other wasp species and seizing their larvae.


21. Asian Hornet (Vespa velutina)

The Asian hornet, an endemic hornet species found in Southeast Asia, exhibits recognizable yellow tarsi on its legs. In addition, its thorax boasts a velvety brown or black appearance, while its abdomen displays a brown coloration. 

A primary concern surrounding its invasive potential lies in its propensity to establish residence and exclusively target honey bee colonies and apiaries. Its diet consists of various invertebrates, including honey bees, and it exhibits more aggression towards other insects rather than humans.

The Asian hornet diet’s consists of various invertebrates, including honey bees.

©Brais Seara/Shutterstock.com

22. Vespa vivax

The Vespa vivax species lives in various Asian countries, including India, Thailand, China, Nepal, and Taiwan. In Taiwan, researchers have discovered nests of this species in mountainous areas situated at altitudes ranging from 1,500 to 2,500 meters.

Limited knowledge is available regarding the characteristics and behaviors of this particular species.

Which Hornets Are the Most Aggressive?

Among the array of hornet species, seven have been identified as the most aggressive out of a total of 22 types. These are the following ones.

  1. Lesser Banded Hornet (Vespa affinis)
  2. Black-Bellied Hornet (Vespa basalis)
  3. Black Hornet (Vespa dybowskii)
  4. Vespa luctuosa
  5. Yellow Hornet (Vespa simillima)
  6. Southern Giant Hornet (Vespa soror)
  7. Greater Banded Hornet (Vespa tropica)

Summary of Types of Hornets and Which Ones Are Most Aggressive

Here’s a recap of the 22 hornet species we took a look at.

NumberHornetScientific NameRange
1Lesser Banded HornetVespa affinisLives in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia
2Yellow-Vented HornetVespa analisSoutheast Asia
3Black-Bellied HornetVespa basalisIndigenous to Taiwan
4Warlike HornetVespa bellicosaLowland tropical forests of Sumatra and Borneo
5Black Shield WaspVespa bicolorChina, Hong Kong, Vietnam, India, and Nepal
6Bingham’s HornetVespa binghamiRussia, Thailand, Laos, China, India, Korea, and Myanmar
7European HornetVespa crabroNorth America; native to Europe
8Black-Tailed HornetVespa ducalisPermanent resident in several Asian countries
9Black HornetVespa dybowskiiFound in various Asian countries
10Vespa fervidaVespa fervidaSeveral Indonesian islands
11Vespa fumidaVespa fumidaN/A
12Vespa luctuosaVespa luctuosaLives exclusively in the Philippines
13Asian Giant HornetVespa mandariniaFrom Asia
14Mocsarian HornetVespa mocsaryanaSelect Asian countries such as India and China
15Vespa multimaculataVespa multimaculataLowland and montane forests of Southeast Asia
16Oriental HornetVespa orientalisAsia, Europe, and South America
17Philippine HornetVespa philippinensisExclusively on the Philippine Islands
18Yellow HornetVespa simillimaChina, the Korean Peninsula, and Siberia
19Southern Giant HornetVespa sororNative to Asia
20Greater Banded HornetVespa tropicaPrimarily found in Southern Asia
21Asian HornetVespa velutinaSoutheast Asia
22Vespa vivaxVespa vivaxVarious Asian countries, including India, Thailand, China, Nepal, and Taiwan

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Phattipol/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Lev is a writer at AZ Animals who primarily covers topics on animals, geography, and plants. He has been writing for more than 4 years and loves researching topics and learning new things. His three biggest loves in the world are music, travel, and animals. He has his diving license and loves sea creatures. His favorite animal in the world is the manta ray.

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