Hornets

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 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 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 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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