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In the garden and on the balcony, not only beautiful flowers can be admired in summer. Even small flying visitors can occasionally be seen and sometimes come very close to us. When it comes to hornets, pure enthusiasm rarely breaks out. After all, these insects are widely known to be dangerous and their stings more than feared. But is this fear really justified? The answers to the following questions reveal all sorts of surprising things about the insect population.


The hornet is a native insect of the wasp family. Strictly speaking, it is the largest species of folding wasp living in Central Europe. This species of insect lives as a colony, centered on the queen. There are also male drones, young queens and, of course, workers. The hornet's scientific name is Vespa crabro.

Appearance & Lifestyle

How big does a hornet get?

A hornet is larger than a bee and larger than the common wasp. Exactly how large it is depends on what species of hornet it is:

  • the queen is largest: about 23 to 36 mm long
  • this is followed by the drones with 21 to 28 mm
  • the smallest are the workers: 18 to 25 mm
Hornet queen, Vespa crabro

By what optical features can it be recognized?

The hornet is visually reminiscent of a giant wasp. The characteristic coloring is the most striking feature, it can be easily distinguished from bees.

  • Abdomen is striped black and yellow
  • Bees tend to be brown-black in color
  • Hornets also have conspicuously curved feelers

There are also numerous, but subtle, differences in physique. However, these differences can only be seen on closer inspection and are difficult for laypersons to recognize.

How big is a hornet colony?

The size of a hornet colony varies in number. As a rule, it is usually somewhere between 400 and 700 insects. However, colonies with far larger numbers of animals have also been sighted.

When can we observe them in the wild?

The mated young queen wakes up from her deep sleep at the beginning of May and leaves her winter quarters in search of a suitable place to build her nest. It is unlikely that a single hornet will attract attention. But soon after building the nest, she lays her eggs and the population increases steadily. The workers hatch first, followed by the drones and young queens in July.

  • from mid-August to mid-September the numbers are at their peak
  • from November no more hornets fly around

Do these insects have natural enemies?

Yes, their natural predators can be found among many species of birds.


Where do they build their nest?

In the spring, the queen looks for a suitable place to build her nest. Natural tree cavities are ideal, but rarely found in human settlements. Alternative places are in demand:

  • shed
  • wood paneling on the house
  • roof panels
  • roller shutter boxes
  • birdhouse

The queen is content with any suitable niche and can become a significant disruptive factor with her colony if the distance to human movement space is small.

How big is a hornet's nest and what is it made of?

The hornet's nest is built from the top down by attaching more and more floors. A fully built hornet's nest can easily be 60 cm high and about 30 cm in diameter. The available space also plays an important role in its actual size. Rotten tree material is used for the construction, which the insects chew through beforehand. The saliva serves as an adhesive that later holds the building material together.

What about a hornet's nest near the house?

Even then, unauthorized removal or destruction of the nest constitutes a violation of the law natural reserve Standing insect colonies may only be removed from a site classified as critical with official approval.

  • as a rule, the nest and colony are relocated
  • Pest control companies or beekeepers are the right people to talk to
  • The fire brigade is not responsible for private property

Depending on where the nest is located, protection is often sufficient, for example with fly screens. In autumn the hustle and bustle comes to an end anyway, because a hornet's nest only serves as a dwelling for a single season. Local nature conservation organizations will certainly help with questions about annoying hornet nests.


Where are the people in winter?

Most of the colony dies at the end of autumn. Worker bees have a short lifespan of 3-4 weeks anyway. The drones die after having previously fulfilled their mating function. The "old" queen has also had its day. The only specimens that survive are the young queens. They each look for a suitable hibernation hiding place, such as a rotten tree trunk, where they rest over the winter. Before that, they were mated so that they could lay eggs the following year and start their own hornet colony.

Are hornets nocturnal?

Hornets are not exclusively nocturnal. They hunt insects during the day, but can also be seen hunting insects when it gets dark.

Are hornets aggressive?

No, they don't attack just because a suitable target presents itself. They are essentially peaceful insects that only use their stingers when they feel threatened.

  • avoid violent movements in their vicinity
  • Do not expose nest site to vibration
  • Do not change trajectory
  • do not breathe or blow on
  • Be careful when mowing the lawn near the nest
  • do not poke at the nest, etc.

By the way, the male drone doesn't have a stinger. He merely simulates the sting with his reproductive organ. Which can be quite a deterrent and allows him to escape.

Why do they also fly into rooms?

Hornets, like many other insect species, are attracted to light sources. If the windows are open, one or the other specimen can get lost in rooms inhabited by people. If the light is then turned off and the window opened wide, they usually fly away again on their own.

Can this insect species be killed?

The native hornet species is acutely endangered. That's why the Vespa is under crabro natural reserve. It is forbidden:

  • killing hornets
  • to destroy their nest.


What do these insects eat?

A hornet colony consists of hunters who catch small insects as prey for their larvae. Together they can capture up to 500 grams of it as food every day. Their larvae also eat insects that we know as garden pests.

  • mosquitoes
  • To fly
  • forest pests
  • Moth
  • caterpillars
  • wasps
  • and many other insects

Because all kinds of pests are part of their prey, hornets are also referred to as the nature police of an ecosystem. Adult animals prefer plant juices (carbohydrates) as food. They don't eat insects.

Do they also fly to sweet foods?

No, unlike bees and wasps, hornets are not a nuisance at the coffee table. Sweet cake or drink smells therefore do not seem to have any attraction for these insects.


Are hornet bites dangerous for humans?

The sting of a Vespa crabro is longer and stronger than that of a bee or wasp. Therefore, the sting is subjectively perceived as more painful. However, it is not important for the intensity of the pain which part of the body was bitten. However, some people may be allergic to hornet stings.
Fortunately, the saying that seven hornet bites kill a horse and three kill a person is not true.

What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?

A severe allergic reaction to hornet stings develops only after several stings. Therefore, only people who have already been stung by a hornet are affected. The statistical value is 2-3% of the population. The symptoms are:

  • hives
  • Redness and swelling at the injection site
  • to shortness of breath

As a precaution, contact a doctor as soon as the above symptoms appear.

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