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10 Types of Hornets: Species, Facts and Photos

Hornets have several key characteristics and diverse habitats ranging from trees in backyards to untouched wild forests. This article details various types of hornets and provides insight into these misunderstood creatures. 

Hornet Classification

Hornets are a type of wasp known for their large size and sturdy bodies. They belong to the Vespidae family under the order Hymenoptera

The Vespa genus is home to true hornets, such as the European Hornet and the Asian Hornet. Meanwhile, some solitary wasps, like the mud dauber wasps (or the mud wasp), belong to the genus Sceliphron. Other wasp species, like paper wasps (including the northern paper wasp), are in the genus Polistes.

In this list, we will focus on Vespula and Dolichovespula. The latter is a sister genus which their longer faces can distinguish. 

Hornets live in various habitats and are skilled builders, creating nests that house colonies of several hundred to several thousand hornets. They balance and sustain the ecosystem by controlling other insect populations and acting as pollinators.

Related Read: Wasp Facts.

10 Types of Hornet Species

1. European Hornet (Vespa crabro)

European Hornet
Photo by Stanislaw Szydlo on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The European Hornet is the largest wasp species in Europe, measuring up to 1.4 inches. It features an easily recognizable yellow and brown coloring, which resembles an oversized yellow jacket.

Despite their size, they are typically non-confrontational unless provoked. They have adapted well to regions such as Europe, Russia, North America, and Northeast Asia.

They construct their nests in hollow trees using a combination of chewed wood pulp and saliva. However, they will also occupy barns, sheds, and attics if no hollow trees are available. 

Their colonies can consist of 200 to 700 members, and they have a strong community culture. These hornets hunt large insects such as beetles and yellow jackets and enjoy honey and fruit juices. 

2. Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia)

Asian Giant Hornet
Photo by t-mizo on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Asian Giant Hornet, or the “murder hornet,” is the largest hornet species on Earth. They are dark brown velvet with a yellow-orange head and are native to East Asia, Subtropical Asia, and parts of the Russian Far East. 

Likewise, they live in low mountains and forests and build their nests in rotted tree roots or human-made structures. These hornets are most active between April and November.

Moreover, they are strategic predators; they hunt colonies of bumble bees and wasps. These types of hornets also prey on nuisance species such as the carpenter bee.

During September and October, they exhibit "hawking," where they hover outside beehives, waiting to swoop down on their prey. Despite their fearsome reputation, they only attack when they feel a threat to their nest.

3. Japanese Hornet (Vespa japonica)

The Japanese Hornet is a large and striking insect found in Japan's forests and rural areas. With a body size of around 1.8 inches and a wingspan of up to 3 inches, it is one of the largest hornet species in the world. 

Despite its intimidating appearance, the Japanese Hornet balances the ecosystem by hunting various insects, including other hornet species and honeybee hives.

The Japanese Hornet's "hawking" hunting strategy involves patiently waiting near a honeybee hive to capture returning bees. 

However, honeybees have evolved a defense mechanism known as the "heat ball," where they surround the hornet and vibrate their bodies to generate lethal heat, effectively cooking the intruder3.

4. Oriental Hornet (Vespa orientalis)

Oriental Hornet
Photo by Assafs on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Oriental Hornet is a social insect in Southwest Asia, Northeast Africa, and some parts of Southern Europe. It has a brown body with thick yellow bands on its abdomen and yellow patches on its face.

Despite their intimidating appearance and reputation for stinging, these hornets are generally harmless and only attack when threatened. They are active during the day, building their nests underground or taking over abandoned burrows. They help control pest populations.

Interestingly, this type of hornet can harvest solar energy to create electricity inside its exoskeleton2.

The queen is responsible for laying eggs, while the female workers handle the rest of the tasks, such as nest building, food gathering, and protection. Male drones exist solely to win the queen's favor. 

5. Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata)

Bald-faced Hornet
Photo by Ryan Hodnett on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Bald-faced Hornet, also called a White-faced Hornet, is a yellowjacket species in North America. It has a black body with white markings on its face, thorax, and abdomen. 

The queens of this species are slightly larger than their counterparts; the workers, drones, and queens all have clear roles in the colony. 

Bald-faced Hornets live in large carton nests made from chewed-up wood pulp and saliva. These nests are often in trees, shrubs, or buildings. 

These hornets are omnivores, eating insects, caterpillars, spiders, nectar, and fruit juice. Unlike many insects, they are active during the day.

6. Greater Banded Hornet (Vespa tropica)

Greater Banded Hornet
Photo by Balanthumbi on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Greater Banded Hornet lives in South and Southeast Asia. It features distinctive yellow and black bands and can grow to an inch. 

Likewise, they make their homes in complex, large nests within the hollows of trees or underground cavities, which can house several thousand colonies. 

The hornets consume other wasps, beetles, caterpillars, nectar, and fruit. They are also essential pollinators within their ecosystems.

Notably, the queen is the sole egg-layer at the heart of each colony, surrounded by her daughters who serve as workers. 

The workers use hunting methods such as "hawk predation," capturing and killing other flying insects in mid-air. Meanwhile, they also participate in "aerial jousting" to determine dominance.

7. Lesser Banded Hornet (Vespa affinis)

Lesser Banded Hornet
Photo by Judy Gallagher on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Lesser Banded Hornet lives in South and Southeast Asia. It measures between 1 and 1.4 inches in length and lives in colonies ranging from a few hundred to a thousand members. 

The hornet feeds mainly on insects such as flies, beetles, and caterpillars. However, it also occasionally consumes nectar and sweet sap, making it a gentle pollinator. 

Still, these fiercely territorial hornets will not hesitate to protect their homes. Its stings can be painful, so one must exercise caution around them. There are already many fatality reports of their stings leading to complications like myocardial infarction and multiple organ failure1.

The hornets typically construct their nests in trees, shrubs, or under the eaves of buildings. These nests are crafted from chewed-up wood pulp and have a papery feel. 

When spring arrives, one fertilized queen establishes the colony, laying eggs and nurturing the first batch of larvae. 

8. Yellow-legged Hornet (Vespa velutina)

Yellow-legged Hornet
Photo by Vespa-Watch on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Yellow-legged Hornets are smaller than their European counterparts, with worker hornets ranging from 0.8 to 1.2 inches and queens stretching up to 1.4 inches. They are native to Southeast Asia but have spread to Europe by hitching rides with humans. 

These hornets have dark, velvety bodies with yellow stripes and yellow legs. They live in bustling colonies of thousands of members, often found in trees, shrubs, artificial structures, and even ground burrows. Their non-barbed stingers can sting repeatedly and cause significant pain.

They have a preference for honey bees, threatening local honeybee populations. Despite their adverse effects on honey bee populations, Yellow-legged Hornets regulate the populations of other insects in their native ecosystems.

9. Common Yellow Hornet (Dolichovespula arenaria)

Common Yellow Hornet
Photo by Gilles Gonthier on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Common Yellow Hornet, also called the Sandhills Hornet or the Aerial Yellowjacket, is a native species found across North America. It sports a black body with thin yellow bands and yellow legs.

This type of yellowjacket eats grasshoppers, spiders, flies, and ladybugs. Since they nest above trees, they are mostly targeted by birds and other wasps. However, they can spray venoms out of their stings to defend themselves.

10. Red Hornet (Vespa akrei)

The Red Hornet is a hornet native to East Asia. Their bright red body sets them apart from other hornet species. 

They have colonies ranging from a few hundred to several thousand members, with a single queen responsible for reproduction. These social insects are active during the day and feed primarily on other insects. They also consume plant nectar and fruits, aiding in pollination. 

These hornets are generally harmless, although they can become aggressive when threatened.

1

Kularatne, K., Kannangare, T., Jayasena, A., Jayasekera, A., Waduge, R., Weerakoon, K., & Kularatne, S. a. M. (2014). Fatal acute pulmonary oedema and acute renal failure following multiple wasp/hornet (Vespa affinis) stings in Sri Lanka: two case reports. Journal of Medical Case Reports, 8(1). 

2

Plotkin, M., Hod, I., Zaban, A., Boden, S. A., Bagnall, D. M., Galushko, D., & Bergman, D. J. (2010). Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis). Naturwissenschaften, 97(12), 1067–1076. 

3

Ono, M., Igarashi, T., Ohno, E., & Sasaki, M. (1995). Unusual thermal defence by a honeybee against mass attack by hornets. Nature, 377(6547), 334-336.

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by Rajesh S Balouria on Pexels.
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