Where Do Hornets Go in the Winter?

Written by Nixza Gonzalez
Updated: October 30, 2023
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Hornets are a type of wasp, but not all wasps are hornets. These flying insects live in many climates. Their closest relative is the yellow jacket. They look so similar; they are easy to confuse. Hornets are large, sometimes growing over 2.2 inches long. There are no hornets native to North America, but still, some invasive species have made it their new home.

Hornets are social wasps that build communal nests by chewing wood to create a thin, sticky pulp. Female hornets are aggressive, while males are docile and don’t have a stinger. Interestingly, each communal nest holds one queen that produces eggs. The other female working wasps don’t have fertile eggs. As cold weather starts, their behaviors change. However, it depends on where they live. Keep reading to discover where hornets go in the winter and how they survive harsh weather.

Where Do Hornets Live?

Asian Giant Hornet

Hornets live all over the world.

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Hornets live all over the world. Most hornet species are native to Asia, but they also live in Europe, North America, and Africa. Every hornet species builds its nest in a different area. For example, European hornets prefer building their homes at least 6 feet above the ground. They are also typically hidden and blend into the surface. European hornets build their nests in between walls and tree crevices. You can sometimes find them in abandoned beehives and on the outside of buildings; however, they typically nest in trees.

Asian giant hornets are one of the few hornet species that build their nests underground. They are native to some parts of China, India, Japan, and Sri Lanka. However, they are more commonly found in rural areas of Japan. These large hornets find abandoned nests and holes and build their homes. These large hornets attack and feed on other insects. They are fearsome and can destroy bee nests. While they aren’t native to North America, a few have been spotted on the continent.

What Temperature Is Too Cold for Hornets?

Hornets and other wasps cannot withstand temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Although some can fly slowly and move in low temperatures, it’s for short distances. Instead, their bodies slow down as their metabolism drops. Interestingly, all the worker hornets die during winter while the fertilized females live. They hibernate in shelters until the temperature rises above 50 degrees. Mated queen hornets seek shelter anywhere it’s warm. This includes under tree bark, roofing tiles, and mulch. It can take up to 7 days for hornets to die in cold climates. Low food sources are a common cause alongside freezing temperatures.

Do Hornets Come Back to the Same Place Every Year?

Hornets rarely come back to the same place every year.

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Wasps and hornets rarely come back to the same place every year. After winter, they build nests in new areas. While some hornets build on top of their old nests, the nests usually don’t survive past winter and sit dormant. However, hornets that build nests on roofs and crevices often return to the same nesting spot but won’t build on the same nest. Instead, they build nests close by.

Is It Safe To Knock Down a Hornet’s Nest in the Winter?

You might notice many hornet and wasp nests as the leaves fall from trees. Don’t be alarmed. If you live in a cold place, where the temperature lowers past 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the nests are dormant. It’s safe to knock them down. The best way to take care of an old hornet’s nest is to spray it with a repellent. While it is rare for hornets to survive cooler temperatures, it’s better to be safe. Take a stick and knock it down after spraying it.

Interestingly, since wasps and hornets are territorial, they don’t like building nests close to other hornet colonies. If you want to prevent nests and hornets near your home or vehicle, leave the abandoned nest alone. However, some hornets return to the same nesting site but won’t touch the old nest.

What To Do if You Are Stung by a Hornet

Cicada Killer

Hornet stings aren’t deadly, but they are uncomfortable.

©samray/Shutterstock.com

Usually, hornet stings aren’t deadly, but they are uncomfortable. However, being stung by multiple hornets is dangerous. They have long stingers. In Japan, about 50 deaths are reported because of Asian giant hornets. When you are stung by a hornet, immediately treat the wound. However, only treat the wound when you are away from the nest and the threat.

Start by cleaning the sting with mild soap and water. Place an ice pack or cold compress on the sting to dull the pain and lower swelling. Don’t place extremely cold items, like ice, on your skin without a barrier. You can burn your skin and irritate the hornet sting more. Take over-the-counter medications as needed for pain and swelling. If the swelling is too much or the pain is unbearable, contact your doctor and see a medical professional.

Where do Hornets go at Night?

Largest Wasps - European Hornet

European hornets are active throughout the day and unlike other social wasps, they continue to be active at night.

©Rytis Bernotas/Shutterstock.com

Hornet behavior is dependent on each individual species. There are two primary subgroups of wasps – social and solitary. Hornets fall into the social subgroup. Unlike other social species of wasps, the European hornet is actually more active at night, which is when they will be foraging and flying around the area around their nest sites.

These stinging insects are much larger than yellowjackets and are not typical of most insects that are diurnal. They are attracted to light and can be found near light fixtures or banging against windows that emit bright lights and will work throughout most of the day as well as the night.

Other species of hornets, like the bald-faced hornet, are typically active during the day, which is when they care for their young, forage for food, and build their nest. When the sun goes down, they will seek shelter inside their nests.

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


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About the Author

Nixza Gonzalez is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics like travel, geography, plants, and marine animals. She has over six years of experience as a content writer and holds an Associate of Arts Degree. A resident of Florida, Nixza loves spending time outdoors exploring state parks and tending to her container garden.

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Sources
  1. PennState Extension, Available here: https://extension.psu.edu/asian-giant-hornets#:~:text=Northern%20giant%20hornets%20are%2C%20as,called%20the%20Japanese%20giant%20hornet.
  2. Healthline, Available here: https://www.healthline.com/health/hornet-sting#treatments