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What is a Hornet?

Phil Shepley
Phil Shepley

A hornet is any of a variety of large social wasps that live in North America, Asia and Europe. Hornets typically live in wooded areas and make their homes in nests that consist of many hexagonal cells and are made from a combination of chewed up wood and plant fiber. These nests are built in the spring by the female queen and serve the sole purpose of raising additional hornets. The queen lays an egg into each individual cell, and takes care of these eggs when they hatch into larvae. She will then feed them a diet of protein-rich insects until each larva transforms into a hornet.

The male hornets will then function as workers for their colony by helping the queen expand the nest, gather more food, and assist in raising more larvae. By the end of summertime, a nest can be as large as a basketball and home to a colony of hundreds of hornets. Finally in the fall, new queens are born along with new males whose purpose is to mate with the queen. Then the new queens will find a place to hibernate for the winter and begin the cycle again.

Hornets are any variety of large social wasps.
Hornets are any variety of large social wasps.

When searching for food, the worker hornets feed primarily on carbohydrate-rich fluids such as tree sap. They are also known to hunt other insects as well, including flies and other more vulnerable hornets and bees. When foraging during the warmer months, the hornets are also known to gather water and insert it into the nest for the purpose of keeping it cool.

Individuals who are allergic to hornet stings may experience hives.
Individuals who are allergic to hornet stings may experience hives.

A hornet will often be aggressive when provoked, and will sting. The hornet’s sting can be venomous while causing pain and swelling, and the amount of toxicity of the sting can vary widely between hornets. One particularly dangerous aspect of hornets is their ability to mobilize their entire nest and attack intruders as a group. Some popular species of hornet include the European hornet, known for its black and yellow coloring, the baldfaced hornet, which has a white face and the aerial yellow jacket, which differs from an actual yellow jacket.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a hornet?

A hornet is a type of large wasp from the genus Vespa, belonging to the family Vespidae. Hornets are known for their impressive size and are distinguished from other wasps by their wider heads and larger, more robust bodies. They build communal nests by chewing wood to make a papery pulp and are considered both predators and scavengers.

How do hornets differ from bees and other wasps?

Hornets are generally larger and more aggressive than bees and many other wasps. Unlike bees, which have barbed stingers and die after stinging, hornets can sting multiple times. Their diet also differs; while bees primarily consume nectar and pollen, hornets are carnivorous, feeding on other insects and sometimes raiding beehives for honey.

Are hornets dangerous to humans?

Hornets can be dangerous to humans, especially to those allergic to their venom. While they are not typically aggressive towards humans, they will defend their nest vigorously if threatened. A hornet's sting is more painful than that of a bee or wasp due to a larger amount of venom, which can lead to more severe reactions.

What is the role of hornets in the ecosystem?

Hornets play a crucial role in the ecosystem as both predators and scavengers. They help control the population of other insects, which can be beneficial for agriculture by reducing pests. Additionally, their scavenging helps to decompose dead insects, contributing to nutrient cycling in the environment.

How can I safely remove a hornet's nest?

Removing a hornet's nest can be hazardous and is best left to professionals. If you must do it yourself, it's essential to wear protective clothing and plan the removal for nighttime when hornets are less active. Use a commercial hornet spray from a safe distance, and ensure you have a clear escape path.

What should I do if I get stung by a hornet?

If you're stung by a hornet, wash the area with soap and water to prevent infection. Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling and pain. If you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or mouth, or a rapid heartbeat, seek medical attention immediately as it could be life-threatening.

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    • Hornets are any variety of large social wasps.
      By: nicholashan
      Hornets are any variety of large social wasps.
    • Individuals who are allergic to hornet stings may experience hives.
      By: John Tomaselli
      Individuals who are allergic to hornet stings may experience hives.