Hornets are the largest social wasps. Only one true hornet lives in North America, the European hornet; it was accidentally brought to the United States in 1840. Hornets build nests and vigorously defend them, but there is some misinformation about hornets that people accept as fact. What time of year do hornets begin to appear? Read on and find out.
Hornets do not survive cold weather, except for the fertilized queen of a colony. She will find a place to spend the cold months, such as in the bark of a tree or in a rotten stump. When the weather begins to turn warmer, in late March or April, she will emerge and go about the task of rebuilding a colony. The queen will build a paper nest and lay eggs, which turn into worker hornets. They will then take over the duties of nest building while the queen produces more hornets.
The worker hornets are all sterile females, which forage for food to feed the young. They defend the nest from enemies and expand it so that it can accommodate up to 1,000 hornet workers. Reproducing hornets are born and eventually mate, with the males dying off and the females becoming future queens. The entire colony then dies as winter nears except for the queens, who find their winter abode.
The European hornet looks a bit like a yellow jacket, but can be an inch and a half long. They have yellowish markings on a brown body; the queen hornets are more reddish than brown. The nests of these hornets can be built in a hollow tree, in a barn or shed, inside the walls of a house or in an attic. The sting of the European hornet is painful but is dangerous only if several hundred sting an individual or the person has an allergy to bee stings.
The range of the European hornet in North America extends all the way from the New England states west to the Dakotas, and south to Florida and Louisiana.
The white-faced hornet is not a hornet at all but a member of the yellow jacket family. They are larger than yellow jackets, which are wasps, but they have a white pattern on their face and will attack a person who comes too close to their nest. The European hornet is one of the few stinging insects that will come out at night; they are attracted to light. They will repeatedly smash into windows trying to get to a light, making people think the hornet is trying to get inside to attack them. The urban legend attached to these hornets is that three stings from one could kill a man and seven a horse, but this is not at all true.
- Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Andrew Dill