European Hornet

Actual Size: ½ to 1.4”

Characteristics: Large, brown bodies with dull orange stripes and a pale face.

Legs: 6

Antennae: Yes

Habitat: Primarily builds nests in sheltered areas such as tree hollows, barns, wall voids, attics, and even old, abandoned beehives.


  • Are the only “true hornet” species in the United States.
  • Primarily active at night, unlike most other stinging insects.
  • Rarely aggressive despite frightening appearance.

European Hornets in Memphis TN Metro Area

The European hornet, also referred to as the brown or giant hornet, earned its common name after being introduced to the eastern United States from Europe during the mid-1800s. These hornets can be found in around 30 states, spanning from the eastern region of the U.S. to as far west as Louisiana and the Dakotas. European hornets are considerably larger than yellowjackets, and unlike many other stinging insects, they can remain active during the nighttime. Adult hornets, perhaps in search of prey, are attracted to light in the evening, which can be distressing for homeowners and cause significant concern.

European Hornet Habitat

European hornets, as social wasps, typically construct their nests in hollow trees, although they may also utilize wall voids and attics of houses. Unlike the freely suspended, football-shaped nests of bald-faced hornets, European hornet nests are not commonly seen. These nests are typically situated at least 6 feet above the ground and occasionally can be found on the sides of homes. In certain cases, a section of the gray, papery nest may extend outside the cavity or void. By late summer, an average hornet nest can harbor around 200 to 400 worker hornets. If they perceive a threat, these hornets have the potential to become aggressive.

European Hornet Behaviors, Threats, or Dangers

Despite their intimidating size and appearance, European hornets are generally non-aggressive towards humans and will not sting unless they feel threatened. They typically avoid human interaction. However, it’s important to note that European hornets have the ability to sting multiple times, and individuals who may be allergic to their venom should seek medical assistance if stung. Homeowners may face challenges when European hornets choose to nest in barns, hollow trees in yards, wall voids, or attics. In late summer, when food sources become scarce, these hornets may search for sugary foods and can cause damage to fruit trees.

These hornets are attracted to porch lights at night and will sometimes bang up against windows, causing many a distressed homeowner. If a European hornet nest is suspected on your property, it is always best to contact a professional hornet control expert.