Finding a hornet’s nest around your home can be quite alarming as these large insects look threatening. In fact, they are generally less aggressive than wasps. However, their sting contains a lot of venom, and they may sting you repeatedly to defend their nest, so it’s best to leave them alone.
Hornets are quite rare in the UK; however, they are becoming more common in recent years. If you do find hornets around your home, it is most likely to be the European hornet.
Hornets are considerably larger than wasps and bees and can be up to 4cm in length. Another way to differentiate them from wasps is that they have brown and yellow markings rather than the black and yellow markings of wasps.
Hornets generally make their nests in hollow trees. However, sometimes hornets choose other high-up places such as attics, wall cavities, under eaves, garages and sheds.
Occasionally, hornets choose to nest at ground level in enclosed places. They may use old rodent burrows or build a nest under decking.
Hornets scrape slivers of wood from fences and buildings to build their papery nests. The nests can become as large as a football and are often teardrop-shaped. The nest has a single entrance and typically houses between 100-700 hornet workers.
If you see a large number of hornets entering and leaving a space or cavity then it is likely they are going to and from a nest.
If you suspect you have a hornet’s nest in or around your home, then keep away from it. Going closer than 2 or 3 metres could make the hornets aggressive as they defend their nest. They can also release a pheromone that will draw the rest of the population back to the nest to defend it. Being stung repeatedly by hornets can be very dangerous as they release more venom per sting than any other stinging insect.
So, the best course of action is to leave the nest alone, close any windows and doors if the nest is outside and keep everyone in a safe area away from the nest. Then call a professional for help.
While the hornets in a nest will die out at the end of the year, the nest will produce fertile queens that will hibernate and then start new nests the following year. For this reason, if you have a hornet nest in your home or garden it is usually best to get it removed.
It is best to seek professional help for the removal of a hornet’s nest for two reasons.
Firstly, tackling a hornet’s nest without the appropriate training and safety equipment can be dangerous for you, your family and your neighbours. If you disturb the nest, the hornets will become aggressive in their attempt to defend their nest. Professional pest controllers have the training and equipment necessary to remove a hornet’s nest safely.
The second reason to use a professional pest controller is to ensure the nest is eradicated completely and thereby reduce the risk of hornets coming back to nest in the same area in the future.
European hornets eat mainly insects. They may also eat tree sap and windfall fruit. They are less likely to be interested in human food, so will not generally annoy picnickers in the same way that wasps do.
If you are stung by a hornet in the UK then the venom will not be deadly and you will usually just suffer some pain around the sting as well as redness, warmth and itching. You can apply an ice pack to the area and take an antihistamine to reduce the discomfort.
However, if you experience more serious symptoms, or if you are stung multiple times, you should seek medical attention immediately. Some people are allergic to hornet stings, so if you experience any of the following symptoms seek medical advice straight away.
Hornets’ nest: Epukas, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons
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