European Hornets are easily recognized by their large size and black, yellow and rusty red coloration. About an inch long with a plump body shape, the European Hornet can appear rather intimidating. Their heads are yellow and red, and the thorax is black with red markings. The abdomen starts out red and continues with bands of yellow and black.
Although typically active during the daytime, European Hornet workers may fly at night in humid, windless conditions and are attracted to external lighting and windowpanes. European Hornets have an exceptionally long seasonal cycle, reproducing from late August through November. Workers prey on a variety of insects -- including grasshoppers and other orthopterans, flies, honeybees and yellowjackets -- to feed their larvae. Hornets can also "girdle" a variety of trees for sap, including ash, lilac, horse chestnut, dogwood, dahlia, rhododendron, boxwood, and birch -- which may result in the death of the tree. Colonies last for one year and only the queen survives the winter.
European Hornet nests are typically built in hollow trees, but can be found in barns, sheds, attics and wall voids in buildings. Frequently, the nests are built in the openings of protected cavities. Nests built in wall voids may emit a stench. Mature nests usually have 300-500 workers, but they can occasionally number up to 1,000.
Nature toward humans:
European Hornets are not typically aggressive unless handled, or the colony is threatened. Though the European Hornet prefers forested areas to urban settings, many suburban homes in the U.S. are located near these wooded habitats, which increases the likelihood of human contact.
Bald Faced Hornets
The Bald Faced Hornet isn't a true hornet, but rather is closely related to the yellowjacket.
Bald-faced Hornets are named for their white face coloration. On the rest of their bodies, they are mostly black with white markings on the thorax and lower half of the abdomen. Compared to yellowjackets, they are quite large and plump, at 3/4 inch long.
Bald-faced Hornets are common to the meadows, wooded and urban areas. They typically only forage for live prey but occasionally will scavenge for sugars. This species primarily preys on flies and other yellowjackets for protein. Colonies last one year, with new queens overwintering to make new nests the following spring.
Bald-faced Hornets build nests at least the size of a basketball, and sometimes larger. Nests are grayish and round or pear-shaped, typically in higher aerial locations 10-12 feet high, such as in trees, shrubs, or on buildings. Bald-faced Hornet nests are much stronger, flexible, and resistant to water damage than the nests of other species. The thick paper of the nest conceals two to six horizontally arranged combs. Peak nest populations are 400 or more workers.
Nature toward humans:
Bald-faced Hornets can be very aggressive when aggravated or when the nest is disturbed, presenting a significant stinging hazard. It is reported that they will go for the facial area when they attack humans.
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