Garden Ecology: Hornets – friend or foe?

One of the things I love about writing a blog is that it encourages you to investigate around a subject more than you might otherwise do so.

Over the last month the hornets have been much more noticeable in the garden than at any other time of year.  I presume that they must be about all year but we only tend to notice them when the apples ripen and the cider production begins.

According to Wikipedia the European Hornet (Vespa crabro) is the largest eusocial wasp in Europe.  Certainly the ones in our garden at around 3cm in length make the ordinary wasps look petite and delicate.  The hornets have a very characteristic yellow band across their heads and brown hairs over their thorax.  They are brown and yellow compared to the black and yellow of the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris).

They just love any apples that have been pecked by the birds and it appears that they get rather intoxicated by the (fermenting?) juice.  From time to time they seem to just fall out of the apple onto their backs and onto the ground, lie there for a while with their feet in the air and after a few minutes fly back to the apple for more!

According to the UK safari website , the larvae eat insects taken back to nest by the adults.  As with wasps this probably makes the hornet a friend (rather than foe) in the garden helpfully eating unwanted insects and reducing their numbers.

This same website indicates that hornets are mostly in the south east of England and range northwards as far as Nottinghamshire.  Our population here in Warwickshire must therefore be part of this tough northern stock (the ones with the Midlands accents).

There has been concern about the arrival of the Asian Hornet (Vespa veluntina) in the UK which is an invasive non-native species.  As a predator of the honey bee its arrival is of great concern.  I am fairly sure that the hornet pictured in our garden is the European Hornet as the ‘Asian Hornet’ has an entirely dark brown or black velvety body, bordered with a fine yellow band and a much blacker abdomen.  Only the 4th abdominal segment is yellow/orange.

Further information on the Yellow legged ‘Asian Hornet

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