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Difference between an Asian Hornet and a European Hornet: A Guide

Understanding the Key Differences between Asian and European Hornets

Asian hornets and European hornets are both large, intimidating insects that can be easily mistaken for one another. However, despite their similar appearance, they are two distinct species with a number of differences that set them apart.

One of the key differences between the two species is their size. European hornets are larger than Asian hornets, with an average length of around 3.5cm compared to the Asian hornet's 2.5cm. Additionally, the colouration of the two species differs, with European hornets having a yellow head and red thorax, while Asian hornets have an orange head.

Identifying hornets can be difficult, but it's important to be able to tell the difference between the two species. This is especially true in areas where Asian hornets are invasive, as they can have a significant impact on local bee populations. By knowing how to identify the two species, individuals can help to report sightings and prevent the spread of invasive species.


Key Takeaways

  • Asian hornets and European hornets are two distinct species that can be difficult to tell apart.
  • European hornets are larger and have a yellow head and red thorax, while Asian hornets have an orange head.
  • Identifying the two species is important in areas where Asian hornets are invasive, as they can have a significant impact on bee populations.


Identifying Hornets

Hornets are a type of wasp that are larger in size and have a more painful sting than common wasps. The UK is home to one native hornet, the European hornet, and it's important to be able to identify it to distinguish it from invasive Asian hornets.

Asian Hornet

The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) is an invasive species that was first spotted in the UK in 2016. It is smaller than the native European hornet and has a distinctive dark velvety appearance. The head is orange, and the thorax is black with a narrow yellow band. The abdomen is black with a thin yellow band towards the end.

European Hornet

The European hornet (Vespa crabro) is the only native hornet species found in the UK. It is larger than the Asian hornet and has a yellow head from the front and red from above. The thorax and legs are black or reddish-brown, and the abdomen is mostly pale yellow with black stripes.

Asian Giant Hornet

The Asian giant hornet (Vespa Mandarinia) is the world's largest hornet species and is not found in the UK. It has a distinctive yellow-orange head, black eyes, and a dark brown thorax. The abdomen is yellow with black stripes.

To identify a hornet, look for the following characteristics:

  • Size: Hornets are larger than common wasps and bees.
  • Colour: Hornets have distinct colour patterns, with black and yellow stripes or black and white stripes.
  • Head: The shape of the head can help identify the species of hornet.
  • Thorax: The colour and pattern of the thorax can also help identify the species.
  • Abdomen: The shape and colour of the abdomen can vary greatly between species.

If you think you have found an Asian hornet, it's important to report the sighting to the authorities. The Wildlife Trusts have a guide on how to identify hornets, including the Asian hornet, and what to do if you spot one.

Differences Between European and Asian Hornets


One of the most noticeable differences between the European and Asian hornets is their size. The Asian hornet is smaller than the European hornet, with an average length of 2.5cm compared to the European hornet's 3cm. Asian hornets also have a smaller wingspan, measuring around 4cm compared to the European hornet's 5cm.


Another key difference between the two species is their colouring. European hornets have a yellow and brown striped abdomen, with a reddish-brown thorax and legs. Asian hornets, on the other hand, have a black velvety body with a yellow-orange head and fourth abdominal segment.


European hornets are known for being less aggressive than Asian hornets, which are known to be highly territorial and will attack anything that comes near their nest. European hornets are also less likely to sting humans unless they feel threatened. Asian hornets, however, have a more potent venom and can sting multiple times, which can be life-threatening to those who are allergic.

Overall, the differences between the European and Asian hornets are mainly in their size, colour, and behaviour. While both species are capable of stinging, the Asian hornet is generally considered to be more aggressive and dangerous to humans. If you come across a hornet's nest, it is important to seek professional help to ensure that it is safely removed.


Impact on Bees

Threat to Honey Bees

Both Asian and European hornets are predators of bees, but Asian hornets pose a greater threat to honey bees. According to the RSPB, the Asian hornet is a significant predator of bees and has consumed large numbers of bees in France, including the well-known European honey bee and many lesser-known solitary and colonial bee species. The hornets attack adult bees and destroy hives, which can lead to the death of entire colonies.

Asian Hornets Diet

Asian hornets are known to feed on a variety of insects, including honey bees. They are attracted to the scent of the bees and can quickly decimate a hive. According to the Natural History Museum, Asian hornets are capable of killing up to 50 honey bees per day during the height of the bee season. They also have a preference for larger bees, which makes honey bees an ideal target.

In contrast, European hornets have a more varied diet and are less likely to target honey bees. They primarily feed on other insects, including flies, caterpillars, and other hornets. They are also known to feed on tree sap and fruit, particularly in the autumn months.

Overall, the presence of Asian hornets in the UK poses a significant threat to honey bees and other pollinators. Beekeepers and the public are encouraged to report any sightings of Asian hornets to the relevant authorities to help prevent the spread of this invasive species.


Sightings and Locations

Asian Hornets in the UK

Asian hornets have been sighted in the UK since 2016. The National Bee Unit (NBU) has been working to locate and destroy nests of these invasive hornets to prevent them from establishing themselves in the UK. The NBU encourages anyone who thinks they have seen an Asian hornet to report it immediately.

In August 2023, the NBU responded to a credible sighting of an Asian hornet in Thamesmead, London. They located and destroyed a nest in Dover, a nest in Rochester, a nest in St Margaret's Bay, and a further nest in Maidstone over the weekend.

European Hornets in the UK

European hornets are native to the UK and can be found in woodland areas. They are larger than Asian hornets and are not considered to be a threat to honeybees.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Asian Hornet?

An Asian hornet (also known as Asian giant hornet) is a species of hornet native to Asia. It is larger than the European hornet and poses a significant threat to native species.

What is the difference between the Asian Hornet and the European Hornet?

The Asian hornet is larger than the European hornet, and it has a yellow band on its thorax. The European hornet is the native hornet species in Europe and is smaller in size compared to the Asian hornet.

Are bees and other pollinators at risk from Asian Hornets?

Yes, Asian hornets pose a threat to bees and other pollinators such as honey bees. They can prey on them and impact local ecosystems.

Where was the first sighting of the Asian Hornet in the UK?

The first time the Asian hornet was discovered in the UK was in Tetbury. Since then, it has been reported in various parts of the country.

What should I do if I found a hornet?

If you have found a hornet and suspect it to be an Asian hornet, it is important to report the sighting to the authorities. You can use the Asian Hornet Watch app to record and report the sighting.

What actions are being taken to address the presence of Asian Hornets in the UK?

Efforts are being made by organizations such as the National Bee Unit to monitor and control the spread of Asian hornets in the UK. It is important to raise awareness and take appropriate measures to mitigate their impact.

Are Asian Hornets an invasive species?

Yes, Asian hornets are considered an invasive species in the UK as they are not native to the country and can have detrimental effects on local ecosystems.


Can Asian Hornets sting?

Yes, like other hornets and wasps, Asian hornets have a stinger and can deliver a painful sting if provoked or threatened.


What is the significance of the yellow band on the thorax of the Asian Hornet?

European hornets are more commonly found in southern England, although they have been spotted in other parts of the country. They are attracted to light and can often be seen around streetlights and porch lights.

If you think you have seen a European hornet or an Asian hornet, it is important to report it to the NBU. They will be able to confirm the species and take appropriate action to prevent the spread of invasive hornets in the UK.