The phrase, “There’s no need to stir up a hornet’s nest” wasn’t coined for nothing. Hornets, much like humans, are protective of their homes. Hornets will do all they can to prevent anyone from getting too close to their nests—namely, by stinging. And turns out they’re quite good at it.
There are around 20 species of the hornet, mainly dwelling in tropical Asia. The insects also live in Africa, Europe, and North America. Hornets and yellow jackets are closely related.
It is no surprise that hornets sometimes eat tree sap, but they also eat insects. These predators will devour bees, flies and others.
Hornets are a lengthy 1.25 inches (think of the size of a paper clip.) Some can even grow as long as 2.2 inches. Hornets are perhaps distinguished by how wide their vertex is. (The vertex is the section of the head in back of the eyes.) They are also known by the rounded gasters. (Gasters are the part of the abdomen behind the waist.)
Hornets may also be identified by where they live. They are generally found on trees in their nests that sometimes take on the shape of a football.
Hornets are quite resourceful; they build hives by chewing wood into a delicate pulp. From birth, the hornets spend their days maturing within the community hive; it is there that they mature into an adult.
Hornets take their homes seriously; they take months to build and uphold them. The nests usually have several layers or “floors” and are protected by round walls. Once fall weather hits, the nest succumbs to nature since the leaves that once hid their homes will soon disappear.
Hornets will get aggressive if they feel their home is being threatened. Hornets will sting those who attempt to hamper with their nest. Hornet nests are safe in some places like Germany, where nests are given protection to conserve their place in the ecosystem.
Life Cycle of Hornet
Hornets are social creatures. They coexist in colonies with workers, queens and males. Pregnant queens dwell in areas that are protected, such as in houses, in stumps, under bark, in logs that are hollow, etc. They leave when days start warming up at the end of April or beginning of May, choose a place for a nest, and construct a small nest of paper where she lays her eggs. The cells at the edge of the nest each hold one egg. The queen feeds her young larvae as they hatch. When ready to pupate, cells have a silk covering and form small domes over each opening. The larvae pupate and come forth at a later time as little females known as “workers.” They are infertile. Sometime around the middle of June, the first adult workers come out and take on various jobs around the colony.
Hornet and Humans
Humans don’t want to mess with hornets; they can give a mean sting. Actually, most hornets are quite passive, at least when not at home, and stay away from humans. They don’t hesitate to sting in defending their home, however. Workers will sting when provoked, and some humans may have an allergy to their venom and have a bag reaction when stung.
Hornets can actually be beneficial because they kill some pest insects. Some say the greatest benefit, though, is their decorative nests. Many have been used as decoration within human homes. Of course, obtaining such a nest brings with it the chance that a few hornets may enter the house.
Hornet nests should be removed with caution and care. This is best performed at night. Most hornet sprays will cause insects to fall right away; therefore, it’s not a good idea to stand right underneath the nest as this would increase the chance of getting stung.
Once treatment has been applied, it’s best to give it a day to make sure the group of hornets is completely eliminated. Then one can knock the nest down. Getting rid of the nest will prevent further problems with ants and other insects.
Remember, this can obviously be a dangerous task. Hornets can get very upset when disturbed. A hornet can sting over and over again without harming itself, unlike a bee. The task for hornet nest removal is likely best left to professionals. If the nest is in a spot far from humans, it may be unnecessary to eliminate it. Most hornet colonies will die off in the winter, and hornets are helpful in controlling other pests.
Hornet Nest Construction
Hornets build their football-like nests from a material that resembles paper. Hornets gather wood and chew it up. They use this material together with their saliva to produce the nest. The many colors of a nest may be due to gathering wood from different sources.
The nest is expanded to house a bigger family in the summertime. By the end of the warm season, some nests are as big as basketballs!
These fragile nests require ongoing maintenance, and a nest won’t survive recurrent winds and attacks from certain animals.
Hornet Food Source
Hornets love sugary foods like flower nectars and berries. This can be problematic when the sugary food is being enjoyed by a human. Soda and fruits should be covered when outside. Hornets, however, primarily eat other insects. Because of this, they are helpful in pest control. Giant hornets don’t scavenge; they only eat insects. The Asian giant hornet, for example, eats mostly bees and can devour a whole colony in sheer hours.
Cooperation and Competition
Queen hornets are the head of the hive and are the only ones to produce offspring. Most other hornet workers are asexual females. They have responsibilities around the nest that serve the community—they build hives, gather food, care for the queen and the young, and offer protection. There are only a few males, and their sole job is to mate with the queen. They usually die soon after this job is complete.