Hornets in New England

Hornet Control for Your Home or Business in Boston, MA, CT, RI, ME, NH, and VT

General Information

Hornets fall within the broad classification of wasp of the family Vespidae. The two most common types of hornets in New England states like Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts include bald-faced and European hornets.

The two species of hornets differ slightly in terms of habitat, but both generally reside in both rural and urban settings found throughout New England. In general, both types of hornet look much like the yellow jacket species of wasps.

Picture of Hornet on Table
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Appearance & Identification

What Do Hornets Look Like?
The average size/lengths of both the bald-faced and European hornets are between 3/4 of an inch and one inch. Both types of hornets feature black bodies with yellow (European hornet) or white (bald-faced hornet) stripes along the backside of the abdomen. The bald-faced hornet has a distinct white face with black eyes and antennae, while the European hornet conversely features a yellow face with black eyes and antennae.

The bodies of bald-faced hornets characteristically narrow noticeably between the abdomen and thorax. Each species has six legs, a pair of brownish wings, and a pronounced stinger, which sits at the posterior tip of the abdomen.

Habits/Habitat

The temperate climate of New England creates ideal settings for the insects to thrive. Bald-faced hornets and European hornets prefer to live in areas with ready food supplies, which are largely influenced by humans. A typical bald-faced hornet nest sits inside of eaves, corners, or crevices of buildings and is made of papery materials, while European hornets build nests inside of hollowed, decomposing trees or other cavities found in standing structures.

The hornets both feed on sugars and are regularly attracted to foods left out by human beings. The insects spend most of the day foraging for food and adding on to the nest of the colony.

As winter approaches, each colony dies off completely, with the exception of a queen, who finds another suitable area to brood a new colony. A typical colony contains between 300 and 700 hornets, with large colonies consisting of more than 1,000. The insects are wildly aggressive and act out violently in defense of their nests.

Diet

What Do Hornets Eat?
The diet of adult hornets consists primarily of sugar-based substances, such as:

  • Fruits
  • Nectars
  • Saps

Another large part of hornet diets (as larvae) includes other small insects like caterpillars. The act of preying on other insects often makes hornets a welcomed guest in field crops and small gardens as a means of natural pest control.

Reproduction

Every fall, upon reaching peak populations in late September and early October, hornet colonies die off entirely, with the exception of a lone queen. Hornet queens perpetuate each colony by overwintering and laying eggs in the warmer spring months. As the only members of each colony to survive, the surviving queens singlehandedly build small nests in which to lay their eggs.

The first offspring to hatch in newly developed colonies are typically sterile, female workers, who then assist the queen in building out the new colony and feeding pupae and larvae. Newly hatched hornet larvae mature within the honeycomb-like cells in which they are laid.

Each hornet goes through a series of developmental stages, or moltings, called instars before reaching full adulthood. Later in the year, usually around July or August, the queen produces males for reproductive purposes.

Problems Caused by Hornets

The two species of hornets found throughout New England are overly aggressive by nature. Bald-faced hornets and European hornets both protect their nests aggressively when threatened. Often, hornets will become aggressive at the mere presence of human beings or other animals.

If nesting in populated areas like parks or even on residential or commercial properties, hornets can become a serious nuisance. The sting of the insect is exceptionally painful, and most hornets swarm in defense of their nests.

Signs of Infestation

The most recognizable signs of infestation associated with bald-faced and European hornets include frequent visual sightings of the insect and actual confirmation of nests. European hornets most commonly reside inside of hollowed out trees or other natural cavities, while bald-faced hornets occupy corners of buildings and other crevices created by manmade structures. Bald-faced hornet nests generally resemble "classic" beehive molds made from greyish papery material and resembling round cones.

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Prevention

Home and business owners should regularly inspect the eaves of roofing and crevices of downspouts to detect infestations of bald-faced hornets. Clearing decomposing trees and stumps from properties prevents infestations of European hornets.

In the event of an infestation of either species, individuals should contact professional pest control specialists. Do-It-Yourself remedies found in hardware or lawn and garden stores may lessen hornet infestation problems; however, professionals typically possess the tools necessary to prevent repeat infestations and diagnose any potential for future problems.