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While hornets are primarily considered pests and don’t pose a serious threat to humans unless someone is allergic to their venom, they do deliver a painful sting when defending their nests. Also, because their stinger doesn’t contain a barb like some stinging insects, they can sting you multiple times when agitated. Learn more about hornets, where they nest, and what to do if you have a nest in or around your home.
Hornets are the largest species of the eusocial wasps and closely resemble yellow jackets. There are 20 different species of hornets, and while most live in the tropical parts of Asia, they can also be found in Africa, Europe, and North America. Hornets eat other insects and usually aren’t drawn to saps, nectars, or proteins. Hornets only build aerial nests, which they construct by chewing wood and turning it into a paper-like pulp. A nest can contain thousands of hornets. However, during the cold winter months, they abandon the nest and only the queen survives, emerging in the spring to build a new nest and produce new offspring.
The only true hornet you’ll find in the U.S. is the European hornet. They are brown with yellow stripes and are approximately 1.5 inches in length. The bald-faced hornets, though common in the U.S., is smaller than the European hornet, although it is more closely related to the yellow jacket. That hornet is black with white-grey stripes.
Hornets live in small crevices in tree bark, rotten logs, and home siding. The most common place to find hornet nests, though, is on tree branches and tree-like shrubs. They build their nests in the late spring in tree branches and under eaves. The location of the nest is one of the primary differences between bald-faced hornets and European hornets. Bald-faced hornets typically build nests in trees and bushes, while European hornets prefer to place their nests in attics or wall voids.
Hornets can become aggressive if they perceive a threat near their nest. Their stings are extremely painful and, because they tend to swarm if their nests are disturbed, people who are stung by hornets are often stung several times. A hornet that’s angry and aggressive can squirt venom into the eyes and cause temporary blindness. The stings typically don’t cause any long-term damage. However, they are painfully intense, and people who are allergic to the hornet venom could experience severe reactions. The most common symptoms after being stung by a hornet are:
Whether you should deal with hornets on your own or with the help of a trained professional can actually depend on a few factors. While there are traps available for hornets and wasp sprays, they’re typically only effective if you see a lone hornet or wasp. Because hornets are social creatures, you usually won’t see them on their own. Even a trap will be quickly overwhelmed if there is a large nest in the area. Additionally, if you could be allergic to the venom, then taking the risk of being stung by hornets could be extremely dangerous, not to mention painful.
If you notice that there is a live hornet nest in or around your home, it’s usually best to leave it alone and call a professional. They have the proper gear and equipment to protect themselves against stings, which is important since hornets can get extremely aggressive when their nests are disturbed. It’s also important to keep in mind that hornet nests grow larger throughout the spring and summer months until the temperatures start to drop, so calling a professional when you first notice the nest can prevent it from getting much larger with potentially thousands of hornets and a much higher risk of being stung.
Hornets can actually be helpful since they eat insects like ticks, flies, and other soft-bodied insects. They also can pollinate flowers. If you see one that’s a safe distance from your home, it’s usually best to leave it alone, especially since they are typically only aggressive if provoked. That said, if the nest is near your home and does pose a threat to you or your family, it’s a good idea to contact professionals.
If you’ve stung by a hornet, wash the site of the sting with soap and water in order to remove as much of the venom as you can. Use a cold pack on the site of the sting to reduce the pain and swelling and keep it clean and dry to prevent any infections.
While they are often confused and do nest in the same way, hornets tend to be less aggressive than wasps if they aren’t provoked. That said, when they are disturbed, the hornet stings are usually more painful because of the hornet venom. They can also sting someone multiple times.
The primary differences are found in the size and color. Wasps are smaller than hornets and have black and yellow rings, while hornets usually have black and white rings.
A hornet’s nest is made of wood that the hornets chew, which looks like paper. The size of the nest depends on how large the colony is. However, it can be up to the size of a basketball. Most nests are usually shaped like a teardrop and only have a single entrance.