Summer brings back the hefty & stinging European hornets

by Kate Evans

European hornets are giant-sized hornets that look like huge yellow-jackets and they have returned. They can be found flying at night around porch lights, guzzling at hummingbird feeders during the day, hanging around water faucets and buzzing around garbage cans looking for food.

They also eat fruit on fruit trees and remove the bark of twigs and branches on trees and shrubs like lilac and rose bushes and birch to feed on their sap and insects drawn to it. The hornets also chew the wood, using it to build their nests. The European hornets can damage and even kill the twigs and branches.

Male European hornets are smaller than the females and don’t have a stinger.

Very large insects

European hornets are large, ranging from 3/4 of an inch to 1 and 3/8 inches long, according to the University of Maryland Extension. The workers are around an inch long and the queen is the largest nearing 1 and 3/ 4 inch long. The insects are brown with yellow stripes on their abdomen and a light colored face.

Female European hornets are usually larger than the males, but male abdomens have seven segments while female abdomens have six.

Their sting

Only female European hornets have a stinger. Males can’t sting. European hornets can sting multiple times as their stinger doesn’ t fall off like a bee’s stinger does.

The hornets sting if they’re stepped on or swatted at or if they’ re feeling threatened. They are defensive of their nest and can be aggressive near their nest and around food sources, often stinging without warning, according to Wikipedia.

European hornets are very large, ranging from one inch to around one and a half inches long. photo by Phillip Cohen Source Wikipedia

European hornet stings should resolve themselves in one to a few hours without complications unless someone has allergies to bee and wasp stings or has experienced multiple stings, said Penn State Extension officials. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience a serious or allergic reaction to their sting.

European hornets aren’t native to the United States

and were first reported here in 1840. They have become widespread and are commonly found in eastern North America.


European hornets nests can be found in hollowed-out trees or logs, barns, outbuildings, hollow walls of homes, attics and abandoned bee hives.

The hornets nest in various places-hollowed-out trees or logs, barns, outbuildings, hollow walls of homes, attics and abandoned bee hives. They build tan paper nests which house between 200400 workers, with 1,000 workers possible in a large nest.

European hornets feed on large insects such as beetles, wasps, yellowjackets, butterflies, large moths, grasshoppers, dragonflies and mantises as well as fallen fruit and other sugary foods. European hornets also prey on the western honey bee, but don’t generally pose a threat to healthy colonies.

What to do

If you have an infestation of European hornets, turn off porch lights at night if that’s when you’ re seeing them. The outdoor lights will attract them. European hornets often hunt at night but are also seen in the daytime.

If the nest is somewhere inaccessible or the hornets aren’t being a problem, leave the nest alone. University of Maryland Extension officials say that all the occupants of the nest will die during the winter, except for the new queens who leave the nest and overwinter elsewhere.

If the European hornets nest is located near or inside a home or building and pest control is needed, contact a pest control professional. They will have the necessary equipment to destroy the nest safely and effectively. Monitor the nest opening for activity in the days following the pest control treatment from a safe distance.

If you can access the nest and decide to destroy it yourself, spraying inside the nest opening at night with wasp and hornet spray along with thoroughly spraying the opening may eliminate the hornets. Make sure you wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants tucked onto long socks to reduce the risk of getting stung. Several applications may be necessary.

The simplest European hornet control is to wait until the first hard frost or two kills the hornets in the nest. Also, pick up fallen fruit.

Spray, catch & release

Wasp and hornet spray can be used to kill individual hornets to help keep down bush damage or netting can be placed over the affected bushes until the hornets die off.

When overwintering hornets are found in the home in the winter and spring, the most immediate control is to capture and release, such as with a glass and piece of paper or cardboard or to kill the hornets.

The best long-term solution is preventing overwintering hornets from entering the home by sealing cracks in the siding and around windows, pipes and other locations that allow them to enter the wall void.


Some manufacturers make traps that are for European hornets as well as wasps, yellow jackets and other hornets. The trap contains several attractants to lure the insects in. Once they crawl inside the top or bottom, they’re trapped and die. The traps are reusable. Hang them outdoors near where you have frequent sightings of the hornets.

If you can’ t find the nest, you can use a European hornet trap made by placing a lighted bulb above a pan of soapy water. Workers fly around the light and often dip too low and drown or they are attracted to the reflection of the bulb in the water.

Bait, other

Small amounts of honeydew gel bait can be applied directly on the cuts in the twigs or branches where the European hornets are feeding on the sap. They will gobble it up and take it back to the nest. Once digested the chemicals it contains come out in their droppings and will start killing all the hornets in the nest.

Sevin dust, an insecticide, can also be used on the affected areas of ornamental trees and bushes or fruit trees. Y ou may need to retreat them every 7-10 days, as needed, depending on weather conditions. If you use pesticides, keep them away from children, animals and livestock. Dispose of containers safely.

Safety tips

European hornets can sting over and over again and can be dangerous in large groups. Stay away from their nest if you know where it is and keep children and pets away from it, too.

Avoid wearing perfumes or fragrant lotions, shampoos, conditioners or soap outdoors.

Don’t swat at wasps and hornets. Crushed hornets emit a scent that can attract other hornets.

Avoid walking in barefoot in clover and other flowering weeds.

Watch for signs of hornet activity and nests nearby.

Sources: Penn State Extension Service, University of Maryland Extension, North Carolina Extension, Wikipedia, Wikihow, New York State Integrated Pest Management websites.

Make a hornet trap

European Hornet Trap drawing.
credit Jackson County, W.Va.
Beekeepers Assn.

Wade Stiltner an apiarist with the W.Va. Department of Agriculture said people can make up a safe concoction to trap hornets. Cut a nickel-size hole on one side of an empty two-liter pop bottle about one-fourth from the top. Put the following inside the bottle:

Two cups sugar, two cups water, one-half cup of white vinegar and one-fourth of a banana peel.

Tie a cord around the neck of the bottle and hang it from a branch close to the nest. It will trap hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets but due to the vinegar and banana peel, honey bees will not enter the trap.

When full, put a piece of duct tape over the hole and dispose of the bottle, Stiltner said.

It is also a good idea to trap the queens in the beginning of spring to reduce the number of hornets.