Thursday 6 June 2013, 18:25

Springwatch Guest Blog Springwatch Guest Blog

Guest blogger: Steven Falk, entomologist, Buglife.

The hornet is a giant social wasp - basically a huge brown and yellow version of the black and yellow wasps that pester you during picnics or make nests in your loft. These enormous insects are 35mm long and fly with a really deep buzz.

Hornet nest comb Hornet nest comb by Steven Falk

The queens emerge from hibernation in May and establish a new nest in a hollow tree, old shed, bird box or sometimes an attic. Workers appear in June and do much of their hunting in tree canopies, unnoticed by humans.

Hornet Queen at Oxhouse Farm Hornet Queen by Steven Falk
Their main food is caterpillars, which they bring back to the nest for the grubs. They also love to feed on ivy flowers. They are thirsty creatures and can sometimes be seen at puddles or pond margins – a sort of African water hole scenario in miniature! They sometimes attack bee hives, but are not a major pest. However, the Asiatic hornet currently spreading across Europe is a problem for beekeepers abroad.

Volucella zonaria Volucella zonaria by Steven Falk

New queens and drones (males) emerge in September and October, but only queens survive the winter. The sheer size of hornets terrifies many an observer, but they are surprisingly unaggressive, the gentle giants of the wasp world. In fact, they are stunning in their own way, with very sophisticated behaviour. But if you think you've seen one, double check to make sure it is not a hornet hoverfly, which lacks long antennae and has much bigger eyes. This is Britain's largest hoverfly and does a great hornet impersonation from a distance.

Find out more about flying insects on the Buglife website.


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    Comment number 1.

    can hornets sting?

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    Comment number 2.

    If they can sting and they sting you what will happen.

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    Comment number 3.

    Unfortunately Hornets live outside my range here in the Northwest (Lancs). My fondest memory of them was finding a nest at the edge of Hayley Wood, in Cambridgeshire.

    I was very close to it when I first saw the nest, about 4-5 feet. However, I just stood back slightly and watched these impressive insects fly backwards and forwards. They were very non-aggressive and just completely ignored me. If that had been any other social wasp, they'd have soon been buzzing me. Although my understanding is that you should never knock or vibrate the nest as things can change. Certainly it gets other social wasps going. Nevertheless it appears that as long as you don't knock the nest, that they are far more placid than other social wasps, and they don't buzz you.

    @Annabel Durrant, and @Wildwatch. I've actually been stung 3 times on the wrist by a Hornet (it was my fault, not the Hornet's). In my teens I was fishing in the southern part of the country when one went up my sleeve (I didn't see it), I just felt something tickling. I panicked and in trying to get whatever it was out I hit my sleeve hard and got stung 2 more times. Whilst it was memorable, because of the shock, and it did hurt, I'm not really sure it's worse than any other wasp sting I've had, they all hurt. I don't get stung much because I'm good at handling wasps and bees (I've always been the one that put them out of the office window to stop people swatting them).

    So the answer is yes they can sting, but I think there is much less chance they will sting you, and they have much less tendency to buzz you, and be aggressive than other social wasps. Therefore I think there is much less likelihood you will get stung by one. The one that stung me was only because I inadvertently clouted it several times as I didn't know it was a Hornet up my sleave. It didn't sting me until I hit it, and you can't blame it. I don't think their sting is worse than any other social wasp. They are impressive to watch though, and mainly ignore us. So you are much better off with a Hornets nest in your garden than anything else. Plus they will keep the pests off your plants. If you had some by your cabbages they would be caterpillar free.

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    Comment number 4.

    What does a hornet larvae look like?

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    Comment number 5.

    Fantastic insects, please tolerate rather than exterminate!
    Hornets are regular visitors to our Shropshire garden, they sound menacing but don't bother you at all. In autumn they are attracted to windfall apples and damsons not for the fruit but to hunt other wasps (the ones which do bother you). Like moths, they are also attracted to lights and we have watched upwards of a dozen on the outside of our kitchen window in September.
    Last week a sooty looking one dropped down the chimney into the living room during Springwatch, clearly a sign they want to be featured on the programme? So CHRIS P et al, how about trying to set up a camera close to (or even inside?) a hornets nest, or fit mico cameras to one or two adults; I think it would make fascinating viewing, albeit a bit of a challenge to set up.

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    Comment number 6.

    We had a small nest in a nest box on the side of a stable and they stung a friend of mine 3 times on her head. All she was doing was walking pas the nest box to get to the field behind the stable. She had to go home and spent the rest of the afternoon in bed in severe pain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    We had a nest in a nest box on the side of our stable and a friend who keeps horses in our field just walked past the box to get to the field behind the stable and got stung on her head 3 times. She had to go home and spent the rest of the day in bed in severe pain

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    Comment number 8.

    Someone asked if hornets can sting, the answer is yes they can and it is very sore and the pain lasts for a couple of days as I found to my cost when I accidentally strimmed a nest and they were very cross.

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    Comment number 9.

    ...and Gary G....why don't you try setting up a camera in a hornets nest?

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    Comment number 10.

    C1, B2, A3 darwins tree of life

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    Comment number 11.

    We have a pair of Jackdaws nesting among the chimney pots of a house behind ours. But for the last week or more they have been continually harassed by Crows, usually a pair but sometimes as many as four. This harassment goes on almost continually from first light to dusk. Is this usual behaviour, especially given that both species are members of the same family, and do we know exactly what the Crows aim to achieve by such behaviour?


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