European Hornet

Fast Facts

Latin name: Vespa crabro

Notable feature: European Hornet’s have a black/brown thorax and an un-banded, yellow abdomen marked with brown on the upper part. They can be most easily distinguished from the Asian ‘Yellow-legged’ Hornet by their dark legs.

Conservation Status: Not Evaluated

Where in the UK: Widespread across England and Wales, scattered records in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

European Hornet (Vespa Crabro) © Steven Falk

The European Hornet (Vespa crabro) is a native species in the UK. They have a black/brown thorax and an unbanded, yellow abdomen marked with brown on the upper part. Their head is yellow from the front and above with yellow antennae. Their legs are dark at the ends – which is a key distinguishing feature between the European Hornet and Asian Hornet (Vespa velutina). They can also be confused with the Median Wasp (Dolichovespula media), but the Hornet is larger and the front of their abdomen is red.

European Hornet’s are rarely aggressive unless their colony is threatened.

  • Size: 25-35mm (2.5-3.5cm). Queens are larger than the males and workers.
  • Lifespan: Queens have an annual lifecycle. Workers tend to live around a few months. Drones until mating is completed.
  • Diet: Mostly carnivorous – they eat other insects such as beetles, wasps and moths. However, they also feed on fallen fruit or other sugary sources of food.
  • Reproduction: Queens emerge from hibernation during Spring to start their nest. They will build their nest with chewed wood pulp to create a paper-mache like structure.  The first eggs that the queen lays in individual paper cells, will hatch workers. Once the workers have emerged, the queen’s life is devoted solely to egg laying with the workers taking over the care of the nest. The nest will typically reach peak size in mid-September. It’s at this point that the queen lays eggs that will develop into males (drones) and new queens. She will die shortly after. The new queens and drones mate during a nuptial flight, after which the males die and the new queens seek out places to hibernate until the following Spring when they will emerge to find their nests and continue the cycle. They are the only survivor of the colony over winter. Abandoned nests are not reused.
  • When to see: Most common in woodlands, parks, and gardens. They are active from May to November. Hornets are attracted to light and so they may be drawn to houses in the early evening if there’s a nest nearby. Why not join our Curtains for Light Pollution campaign and pledge to close your curtains and blinds to keep light inside.
  • Population Trend: Stable in the UK, decreasing in Europe due to destruction of its nests.
  • Threats: Misidentification/persecution due to misinformation and non-native invasive species, Asian Hornet.
  • Fun Fact: The European Hornet is Britain’s largest social wasp. They also chew up food for their young as well as nest building materials.

How you can help:

Little is known about the European Hornet’s current distribution in the UK, their nesting site preferences or when workers first emerge.

Help answer these questions by joining a recording scheme and log your finds – send any records/sightings to the Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society or download the iRecord app and get recording!

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