Hornets are the largest and often most dangerous members of the wasp family Vespidae. They are often twice bigger than most wasps, quite more aggressive, and with much more potent stings. And while both hornets and wasps are omnivores, hornets are typically much more predatory than wasps meaning that they are even more of a problem for beekeepers.
Do hornets sting?
Like all members of the Vespidae family, hornets sting and they sting in quite a nasty fashion. Like wasps and yellow jackets and unlike bees, the hornets’ stingers are barbless which means that they can sting multiple times without losing their stingers. Their stingers are also significantly larger than those of most wasps and can be much more painful. Using their powerful thoraxes, hornets are usually capable of delivering multiple successive stings even just within the span of a second if they are not stopped.
The hornet venom can vary in potency depending on the species. There are only 20 species of true hornets worldwide although there are also thousands of wasp and yellow jacket species that are often commonly called hornets. Of them, some have extremely potent venom that can outright kill an adult human being like the Asian giant hornet, while others – like the European hornet – are much milder in their effectiveness. Even less potent venom such as that of the European hornet can be problematic, however, because of the allergic reactions it can cause. A severe allergic reaction to a hornet’s sting can have disastrous health consequences if not treated immediately.
What is the hornet sting reaction?
There are many different types of insect sting reactions your body and skin can experience, a lot of which are well detailed by WebMD here. The reaction to a hornet’s sting, however, is usually more severe than most. If you’re lucky to not be allergic than you’ll likely only experience a strong painful sensation and the stung location will swell in a red rash.
However, it’s quite possible that you’ll also experience a severe allergic reaction. Here are some of the symptoms to watch out for:
- A red and itchy rash that spreads beyond the stung area.
- Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat.
- Wheezing, difficulty breathing, and difficulty swallowing.
- A rapid heart pulse and arrhythmia.
- A spontaneous drop of the blood pressure.
- Shock, cardiac arrest, unconsciousness.
Needless to say, some of these allergic reactions can be life-threatening and can leave you in no condition to even try to seek medical help. So, avoiding hornet nests and even just individual hornets is very advisable.
Are hornets aggressive?
Unlike bees and the majority wasp species, most hornets are quite aggressive. Some, like the Asian giant hornet, are so aggressive than they are known to attack even when they spot you from a distance – they seem confident in their abilities to drive away or kill any predator so they don’t hesitate to do so. Others, like the European hornet, are not so aggressive and will attack only when provoked. Then again, even they are easily provoked – accidentally stepping near or passing by a hornet can be enough for it to feel “provoked” and “attacked”. So, even if you know you’re dealing with some of the smaller and milder hornet species, tread carefully.
What are the environmental effects of a hornets’ infestation?
The physical danger of hornets is not the only reason why they are considered pests. Hornets are predators too which means that they hunt down and kill all kinds of insects. Particularly bigger hornet species are known to attack and kill even insects such as mantises, large spiders, armored beetles, and others.
Curiously enough, this predatory nature of the hornet means that they can have both negative and positive effects on the environment in a specific area. The fact that they hunt and kill other insects means that they also exterminate other insect pests. In other words, the presence of a hornets’ nest on your property can help rid you of some insects that have negative effects on your crops or vegetables.
Then again, the hornets’ indiscriminate aggression also means that they’ll kill other beneficial insects that were already hard at work to rid you of insect pests. The food chain in the insect world is much longer and more complex than a lot of us realize.
More importantly, however – most hornets love to kill bees and raid beehives. Bees are easy prey for the larger and more powerful hornets and they are also an easy source of protein which is especially important for the hornets during the autumn months. The beehives themselves are a giant draw for most hornets as they offer a near-endless supply of delicious and nutritional honey. This makes hornets one of the biggest problems for beekeepers as an unnoticed hornet nest can lay waste to multiple bee hives within days.
Can hornets cause any structural or property damage?
Hornets typically build their nests on high tree branches on the exterior of buildings. They don’t cause much structural damage this way and their feeding habits also don’t drive them to cause any property damage. There are certain types of yellow jackets and wasps that are confused with hornets and that build their nests underground or in the foundations and walls of man-made structures. Often called ground hornets, these insects can cause a certain amount of structural damage as they dig their nest through your home’s walls or floors. However, this structural damage isn’t too significant most of the time and the far bigger problem is the presence of hundreds or thousands of wasps, hornets or yellow jackets in your home and property.
As you can see, the hornets’ reputation is more than deserved – they can be outright lethal for even adult human beings and can also have devastating effects on beehives and bee populations. They are rightfully considered a major pest and their sporadic beneficial environmental effects as predators of other pests is not enough to change that.