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European Hornet (Vespa crabro)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the European Hornet

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Image Credit: Simon M., taken in Barry's Bay, ON
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Image Credit: Laura A. from Staten Island, NY
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Image Credit: Laura A. from Staten Island, NY
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Image Credit: Tim G., taken in PA
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More North Americans will eventually see the European Hornet firsthand as it expands its range westward across the continent.

Updated: 11/07/2023; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The European Hornet arrived in North America - New York to be more precise - sometime in the 1800's. It is technically the only true hornet on the continent. The large-bodied insect is now common and widespread throughout the eastern U.S., and it seems to be moving further south and west. Paper nests can be found in hollowed trees, under decks or porches, in basements or nestled in an overhang. It is rare to find them in urban areas, but possible to find them in forested places despite city boundaries. One can find between 200-400 adults in one nest and workers are active both day and night. They seem to like light at night and may bounce off windows, like June Bugs. They are not considered dangerous when passing by despite their size and loud buzzing, but they are defensive and will sting if they, or their colony, are threatened. For that reason, professional exterminators should be contacted for nest removal.

European Hornets are multicolored. The head and thorax are black and red while the abdomen has black and yellow stripes. Their large, robust size is intimidating. They are insect-eaters, but also drink tree sap. Their presence can be considered natural insect control in the wild. Their natural enemies include mice and other mammals which try to break into the hornet's nest in order to eat their nutritious grubs (baby hornets). Every fall, young queens are hatched and mate with males before hibernating through the winter. The rest of the members of a colony die. Young queens will build their own colonies the following spring.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
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Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Hymenoptera
        Family: Vespidae
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          Genus: Vespa
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            Species: crabro

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Vespa crabro
Other Name(s): Giant Hornet
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 18mm to 38mm (0.70" to 1.49")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; yellow; orange; red
Descriptors: huge; large; bee; wasp; flying; stinging; sap; tree; stinging

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 18mm (0.7in) and 38mm (1.5in)
Lo: 18mm
Md: 28mm
Hi: 38mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the European Hornet may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the European Hornet. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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