Given the public’s current fascination with exotic “murder hornets” (Vespa mandarina) that were recently discovered in the US for the first time, it is easy to forget that an exotic hornet species can already be found in the country. This hornet is commonly, and aptly, known as the European hornet (V. crabro), as the species is native to Europe. The European hornet was first documented in the US when colonies were recovered in New York state back 1840. Since then, this species has spread throughout much of the eastern US, but they remain most prevalent in the northeast. Hornets are not native to North America, and with the possible exception of the murder hornet, the European hornet is the only true hornet species that has established a permanent habitat in the US. While Dolichovespula maculata has become known as the “bald-faced hornet, this species is actually a type of yellow jacket.
While yellow jackets and most paper wasp species live in close association with humans where they establish nests on properties and scavenge residential areas for food scraps, European hornets dwell in forested areas where they establish nests 6 feet from the ground within tree hollows. Since these hornets live in undisturbed wooded areas, they are rarely responsible for medically significant human envenomation incidents, most of which are perpetrated by yellow jackets on residential properties. However, tan to brown-colored European hornet nests are sometimes found attached to decks, garage ceilings, attics and wall voids.
Due to their habit of readily attacking nearby humans in response to nest disturbances, European hornet nests that are found in high traffic areas should always be removed by a professional pest control technician, but nests should be avoided if they are found in areas unfrequented by humans and pets. The European hornet’s attraction to white incandescent lights lures them into urban and suburban areas where they have become known for darting into windows at high speeds during the nighttime hours. European hornets are relatively easy to recognize due to their brownish-orange coloring and dark wings, and they are also the largest species of wasp found in the US, as adults are around 1 ½ inches in length.
Have you ever encountered a European hornet nest on your property?