Hornets are not very common in the UK. If you see them on your property, it is likely to be the European hornet (Vespa crabro) species. Although they are less aggressive than wasps, they may still bite or sting you repeatedly to defend their nest against any threat.
Hornet control is important if you have a problem with this stinging insect as their bites may be just as painful as a wasp sting.
- European hornets are large insects - they can be up to 40mm long.
- They have a distinctive orange abdomen with brown stripes.
- A colony can reach a size of 700 workers.
- Nests can be found in tree trunks, bushes, sides of buildings, barns, attics & hollow walls.
- Hornets can bite and sting at the same time.
- They can mobilize the entire nest to sting in defence which is highly dangerous to humans.
- Hornets are not attracted to human food. They prefer to feed on insects and sap.
- A sting by a hornet is a painful experience. It can be life threatening to those who are allergic and may suffer anaphylactic shock.
- It is possible to reduce the risk of being stung by taking sensible precautions and ensuring that a hornet nest is properly treated or removed.
- If you know there is a problem, you should try to keep windows and doors shut to prevent entry indoors.
How to Avoid Stings
- Professional treatment of a hornet nest is the main way to control a problem in your home or business.
- A hornet nest can be found in a variety of locations from bird nest boxes, loft spaces and hollow walls to secluded corners of sheds and garages.
- To keep you safe from harm, only approach a nest if you are wearing protective clothing.
- By mid-summer a hornet nest will have reached its peak, with approximately 700 hornets within a nest that is on average 60 cm in size.
There are some key differences between the appearance and habits of wasps and hornets.
If you are able to identify a hornet from a wasp, it can help to decide the best form of treatment for your home or business.
Hornets are larger in size than wasps and bees. They can be up to 4cm in length, with dark brown and yellow markings (compared to the black and yellow pattern of wasps).
The hornet's vertex (head area behind the eyes) is larger than that of wasps.
Hornets are generally less aggressive than wasps but will sting and bite to defend a nest.
Unlike wasps, hornets will also forage for food at dusk if weather conditions are mild. They can also be disorientated by lights, in much the same way as moths, during twilight hours.
Hornets feed mainly on live insects such as houseflies, blow flies, caterpillars and grasshoppers.
Hornets will strip the bark from oak, ash, birch, lilac, rhododendron and boxwood plants to repeatedly harvest the sap. This is known as 'girdling', and it can seriously damage the affected plants. It is not uncommon to see several hornets feeding on the plant sap at the same time.
Hornets naturally build nests in tree cavities - although they have adapted to build nests in man-made structures too.
Hornets scrape slithers from weathered wooden fences, buildings even telegraph poles to create a durable paper paste to construct their nests.
Do not attempt DIY treatment for a hornet nest if you think you are:
- Sensitive/ allergic to stings.
- If the hornet nest is indoors.
- If the nest is difficult to reach.
Removing a hornet nest can be very dangerous. Hornets inside the nest will feel threatened and often become aggressive. This could cause them to sting you and others as they defend their nest and young.
To get rid of hornets you do 'not' need to remove the nest, but you do need to treat it and the nesting hornets.
To reduce the risk of stings to you and your family, arrange for a professional hornet nest treatment. This effective solution will eliminate the hornets and keep you safe from the threat of stings.
Having treated a hornet nest, it should not be removed straight away. It will need to be done at least 48 hours after the initial treatment to allow for foraging hornets to return to the nest and become contaminated. This will incur an additional charge. However, removing the nest may not be possible if it is within a cavity wall or similar enclosed location.
It is difficult to know how you might react to a hornet sting, if you have never been stung before. There are some practical things you can do to help with any pain you might feel:
- Use a cold compress such as an ice-pack or cold flannel.
- Take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to soothe any pain.
- Take antihistamine tablets to reduce any small localised swelling around the sting.
- If you are in any doubt about a hornet sting please consult a doctor or medical professional.
- The allergic reaction anaphylaxis can occur when someone becomes sensitised to the poison in the sting. It is a rare reaction but can be fatal.
If someone has the following symptoms after being stung, immediately call for an ambulance:
- difficulty breathing
- nausea or diarrhoea
- feeling faint or dizzy
- swollen face or mouth
- problems swallowing