Queen Hornet, North end of Big Wood, Allestree Park, 11th March 2012
by Bill Grange
Hornets, which are social wasps, closely related to the more common smaller purely yellow and black species, suffer from a bad press. This is totally undeserved because, although like their smaller relatives they can sting (and quite painfully), they rarely do so, being quite docile. Also, until recent years their numbers had declined drastically. They also tend to nest in woodlands (making a paper nest like that of the common wasps), not in gardens and roof spaces, etc.
I found this queen hibernating under a log in the woods in the Park. She soon came to life and started to vibrate her wings, the temperature being about 18 degrees, unusually warm for March. However, to avoid the risk that it might emerge prematurely and be caught out by a late frost, after photographing it, I carefully pushed her back under the log.
When she does emerge, she will establish a new nest inside a hollow tree or other suitable location, eventually raising a brood of worker hornets (sterile females) to take on the duties of carrying on with building the nest and finding food, while she remains in the nest laying eggs. New queens (fertile females) and males are produced by late summer. The queens, like the smaller social wasp species, are the only stages to hibernate over the winter, the workers and males dying in the autumn.
If you do find a hornet, including any which may accidentally enter your home - I urge you not to kill it! Use the usual drinking glass and card method of capture and then let it go.