9 Hornet Facts: They Love Bees and Their Honey

Being a member of Vespidae family, hornets are usually thought to be wasps. However, they are different from each other. Let’s have a look at the 9 hornet facts below.

Scientific name: Vespa
Kingdom: Animal
Class: Insects
Order: Hymenoptera
Phylum: Arthropod

1. Similar to wasps but hornets are not wasps

The first thing on the hornet facts list is that hornets are not wasps. Hornets are members of the insect Vespidae family which includes all hornet species as well as wasps. Pollen wasps, yellow jackets, potter wasps, and paper wasps also belong to this group. That’s the reason why many people mistake hornets with wasps.

About the appearance, hornets have three body parts (the head, the thorax, and the abdomen) like other insects. The antennae on the head are pretty long, with large basiconic sensilla. The thorax is coated in dark-colored hairs and has two sets of wings: the front wings are longer than the back ones.

Hornets can come with different colors, depending on their species. They can be black and white, total black, black and golden, yellow, and reddish-brown. The white and black or yellow patterns on the abdomen can help distinguish the different species.

Difference between hornets and wasps

Despite being similar to each other, hornets and wasps still have distinguishable features like their sizes, painful sting levels, and protective behaviors. 

The biggest distinction between hornets and wasps is the size. Hornets are bigger than wasps, which makes them frightening although they are quite shy. The next distinction is their color. While hornets mainly come with chestnut-brown or orange and red bodies and heads, the cousin wasps typically have black and yellow colors. 

Although not being a hornet member, some big wasps are still called hornets. The bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) found in North America is a typical example. This wasp has white spots on its face and thorax, a black and hairless body, and 3 white bands across the end of its abdomen. This look makes them have others name such as white-tailed hornet, white-faced hornet, or blackjacket.

The label “hornet” is given to this species mostly because it builds aerial nests (like actual hornets), not underground nests. The Australian hornet (Abispa ephippium) is another example. It’s a member of potter wasp, not hornets.

The hornet is one of the Quickest flying insects on earth, you may find more related articles below:

  1. Dragonflies
  2. Ladybugs
  3. Skippers
  4. Bees
  5. Horseflies
  6. Hawk moth

2. Hornets are shy creatures

One of the hornet facts you don’t know is that hornets are not as aggressive as you may think. Hornets only attacked when they feel being threatened to protect their colonies. Hornets, like most nest-building insects, will normally only attack to protect their colony if it is threatened. This happens mostly when someone or something gets closer to the nest (about 2-3 meters radius).

 Hornets are very passive creatures when outside the nest location. They’re not aggressive at all, but shy and quiet. They avoid fighting and only attack when necessary.

3. Hornets are natural pest controllers

Hornets play an essential role as mother nature’s pest controllers. Perhaps you don’t know these hornet facts that hornets are natural pest controllers you can take advantage of. How so? Insects, like aphids, are one of the hornet’s favorite foods. By eating those harmful insects, hornets help you to eliminate the undesired garden pests destroying crops.  

Asides from insects, what do hornets eat? These creatures like a high sugar and protein diet rather than other things.

Sugar: Like other members in the Vespidae family, hornets like sweet foods. They seek fruit and sugary drinks.

Sap: Tree sap is their favorite! They frequently use their mandibles to pry back the bark from trees in order to reach the sticky golden substance.

A hornet is eating a pearl

 Protein: The young live on protein (insects and other animals) that the hornet workers look for. In exchange, the larvae secrete a sticky, sweet syrup (vespa amino acid mixtures a.k.a VAAM) that the adults devour.

Nectar: Hornets do not produce honey, but they eat nectar from flowers and pollinate those flowers when they eat. They gather nectar before the winter hibernation.

4. Hornets love bees

Next on hornet facts is hornets like bees. They are one of the most favorite foods of hornets. Bees are not only a fantastic protein source for the hornet queens, but they also produce honey – a sweet, golden food that hornets adore. That’s the reason why hornets attack bees. 

At first, some hornet scouts (sometimes one scout) will carefully approach the beehive. Then they generate pheromones to draw their mates to the hive. And that’s when the invasion begins. It just takes a few giant hornets to destroy the whole bee colony. They are 5 times bigger than European honey bees, more powerful, and have larger mandibles.

Hornet facts: they can easily kill bees in a second

With the ability to strike and decapitate quickly, a single big hornet may kill approximately 40 bees each minute. The stings of honey bees have no effect on them. Not to mention that the hornet is one of the fastest-flying insects worldwide. They can go up to 100 miles (160 km) in one day, reaching speeds of 40 km/h (25 mph).

However, Japanese honeybees have evolved a clever strategy to prevent these honey-thirsty predators. At the time a hornet scout is neat the hive, the Japanese honey bees immediately attack it before it has time to produce any pheromones.

A hornet is attacked by Japanese bees/Cre: Masato Ono

Because a honey bee’s sting and bite are ineffective against a hornet, these honey bee species change their ways to defend themselves. They gather around the lone enemy, vibrating their bodies at super fast speed. The bees’ vibration raises the temperature dramatically, burning the hornet alive.

This method is the result of hundreds of years of evolution. The remainder of the world’s honey bees has yet to learn this protective mechanism, making them great prey for enormous hornets as they travel across the globe.

5. Hornets make nests

Where do hornets make their nests? Each hornet species will have its favorite place to build nest. But generally, they prefer to make their nests in high places, such as treetops, garages, attics, on the side of the building, or raised areas from the ground.…

In addition to high areas, hornets also build nests in enclosed locations supplying them support and protection. These places can also be old and disused rodent burrows.

 Hornets that construct their nests in the ground pose a serious threat to humans, especially when they are found in fields, gardens, and parks. They can be walked on by mistake, which causes them to attack human.

So how does a hornet build nest? Queen hornets need a nest to lay their eggs in and the instinct tells them how to make an ideal one.

The queen chews wood, combines it with starch in her saliva, and distributes it with her legs and mandibles. It has a papery texture. It seems that hornets made paper long before humanity did.

You can see how a hornet build a nest in the video below:

The hexagon cell structure nest that hornets make is an efficient design. There is no other way to acquire as many cells in the same amount of area. This kind of structure makes the combs harder and stronger.

6. Hornet stings can kill you 

Among many hornet facts, there is one thing you must know: Hornets can kill humans, and their stings are dangerous. You could be fatal with a hornet sting although the chances of being stung by a hornet are extremely low.

Compared to other stinging insects, hornets produce more poison per sting and the sting is more deadly. It’s all because of their size. Hornet venom is not that dangerous to humans, however, since it is big, the amount of venom released per sting might be damaging.

The big size make the hornet sting more dangerous

Among many hornet species, the giant Asian hornet is the one you shouldn’t mess with. Coming from Japan, this species has quickly spread over Europe. They can cause damage to your tissue and nervous systems with a sting by a lengthy stinger.

Hornets are likely to sting and chase you if they feel threatened and need to defend their nests. A hornet can sting you one time, but it can also sting you repeatedly (10 – 100 times). When being stung, you can have little to significant symptoms, or you can have allergic reactions and die.

Mild symptoms may include:

  • A swollen, reddish area
  • Painful near the sting
  • Itching, bleeding
  • Burning around the sting

In most circumstances, a hornet sting can be treated at home:

  • Clean the stung area
  • Put the cold towel on it to relieve burning
  • To relieve discomfort near the sting, take or use over-the-counter drugs such as antihistamines or corticoid steroids.
  • If pain persists, consider using acetaminophen.

Intense and persistent symptoms: Sometimes, you may have symptoms that last for few days, or they can worsen with time. Those symptoms should be closely examined. The situation can get worse if you are stung near your mouth or throat.

– Allergic responses: A hornet sting may cause more damaged symptoms or even anaphylaxis that can get you in a dangerous or fatal situation. This is due to the presence of histamines in hornet venom. Anaphylaxis is a dangerous and sometimes fatal condition. The symptoms can be:

  • Hives beyond the sting site
  • Swollen skin or throat
  • Wheezing, coughing
  • Breathing problems
  • Chest discomfort
  • Sweating         
  • Nausea, vomiting

Anaphylaxis can strike rapidly and be lethal in a matter of seconds. If you have these symptoms, get emergency medical attention.

7. Hornets are tasty snacks in Japan

One of the hornet facts you may interesting: you can eat them. Hornets can cause you damage or even death. Despite that, many Japanese people seek hornets and their nests to eat. Hornets, particularly hornet larvae, are regarded as a tasty dish in many Japanese mountain villages. Hornets are high in protein and are commonly consumed deep-fried or raw.

Hornet larvae create VAAM, a sticky and sweet substance that attracts and energizes workers. This segregation is used to make Japanese energy drinks and it’s quite popular.

In the wild, there are many animals that hunger for hornets and their larvae. Birds (like Catbirds, mockingbirds, swallows…) as well as lizards, frogs, badgers, bats, spiders… like to eat wasps and hornets. Other animals, such as rats, skunks, and raccoons… may venture into the nests to eat the delectable larvae.

8. Hornets can come in many different colors and types

While wasps are typically black and yellow, hornets come in a variety of colors. Hornets can be found in both warm, tropical moist woods and dry desert regions. More than 20 hornet species can be found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. Hornets live in forests and in country areas.

Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is the largest hornet in the world. This hornet is also known as a muder hornet because it’s a bee-serial killer. It’s about 5cm long with 7.6cm wingspan and 6cm stinger. With these sizes, it becomes the most venomous hornet in the Vespa family.

It has a bright orange head, grey wings, and a dark brown thorax. It can have orange-yellow, black, or dark brown stripes, as well as a yellow abdominal section.

European hornet (Vespa crabro) is distinguished by black stripes on a pale yellow abdomen, as well as a black and reddish-brown thorax. When viewed from above, the head appears red, but when viewed from the front, it is yellow. Workers range in length from 18 to 23 mm, while the queen is 25 to 35 mm.

European hornets, unlike most stinging insects, can be active at night. These hornets are attracted to porch or street lights at night and will occasionally swarm against windows. They are extremely aggressive, so be cautious if you see these hornets at night.

Oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis) has the same size as the European. However, their colors are different. Its body is red with yellow stripes on the abdomen and the front of the head.

Black-bellied hornet (Vespa basalis) originated from Taiwan. It is one of the most hazardous hornets on the island, with venom that causes edema.

The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) is black with a faint yellow band and a large orange line on abdomen. This species is from Southeast Asia.

Australian hornet: There are no native hornets in Australia. In this country, the word “hornet” is used for any huge wasp, especially the orange and black ones. The ‘hornets’ here are mostly potter wasps, spider wasps, and other colorful ones.

9. The cycle of life

Hornets live in a well-organized community with a queen, many workers, and only a few males.

In autumn, hornet colonies create male and female hornets. They will mate right before winter arrives. The males have a sweet, short life. They are born just to mate with the new queens, and then die. The females retain sperms inside their bodies during the winter, hibernate, and use them to fertilize eggs in the early spring.

When the spring comes, the fertilized females find suitable places to establish new colonies and assume the role of queen.

The queen builds a nest of a dozen cells, lays eggs in there, and takes care of them. After 5 to 8 days, larvae emerge from eggs and are fed with half-digested bees and saliva. While feeding larvae, the queen continues to build her nest. Larvae go through five developmental phases before becoming workers for two weeks.

After creating the first worker generation, the queen focuses on laying eggs. Hornet workers are in charge of constructing new cells, feeding the larvae, and protecting the colony from invaders. They work continuously throughout the day and night, and only rest in the early hours before sunrise. These hornet workers are most active in the summer.

At the end of her life (in late fall), the queen lays a mass of fertilized eggs and unfertilized eggs. The fertilized eggs will transform into females (new generation of queens) and the unfertilized eggs will develop into males called drones (donors of sperm). New females and males will leave their nest to mate, they will not return to the old nest.  

While the newly fertilized females locate a place to hibernate, the males die shortly after fertilization. Workers and the old queen will pass away as winter comes. The life cycle of a queen lasts for one year. Every year, the entire cycle is repeated.


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