Get to know the hornet queen

Get to know the hornet queen

How to recognize the hornet queen - size and other features

The hornet queen is clearly different in appearance from that of the worker or the drone. Using the characteristic features in the following table, the sexes can be distinguished from one another:

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Hornet QueenWorkerdrone
size23 to 35 millimeters18 to 25 millimeters21 to 28 millimeters
Wingspan44 to 48 millimeters33 to 45 millimetersQuite long in relation to body size, good fliers
Weight0.5 to 1.1 grams, depending on the season0.5 to 0.6 grams0.6 to 0.7 grams
coloringlike a worker, distinguishable by red-brown spots on the abdomenblack with reddish brown markings and yellow abdomendarker than the worker
Stingabout 4 millimeters3.4 to 3.7 millimetersno sting
Life expectancy1 yearthree to four weeksone to four weeks
hornet queen

It is noticeable that the hornet queen differs from her colony especially in terms of her size. The wide range in size development is due to the food available in autumn and spring: the more food the queen finds during this time, the larger it becomes. Her weight also fluctuates very significantly depending on the season: If a well-nourished hornet queen starts the season with about one gram of body weight, she quickly loses weight due to the effort of laying eggs and is practically halved by autumn.


The largest hornet in the world lives in Japan

Even if our native hornet queen may seem huge to you, the Asian giant hornet, which is mainly native to Japan, is even bigger. With a body length of up to 55 millimeters, the species is considered the largest hornet species in the world and is about five times larger than the honey bee.

When does the hornet queen fly?

You only have the opportunity to observe a hornet queen outdoors for a very short time each year. The animals spend most of the year in the nest or winter quarters. Between April and mid-May - earlier or later depending on the weather - the hornet queen leaves her winter quarters and starts building the nest within a short period of time.

As soon as the first workers have hatched, they take over the search for food and brood care, so that the queen remains in the nest as head of state and is exclusively occupied with laying eggs. So during the summer months, hornet queens cannot be seen. The young queens only fly out from September, mate and then look for a suitable winter quarry.


Nest building

After leaving the winter quarters, the hornet queen immediately looks for a suitable place for the future nest. Often this is created near the previous year's one, but old nests are not used again. So if you already had a hornet's nest in your garden last year, keep an eye out for the hornet queen's activities in the following spring. You can recognize this, for example, by the fact that the strikingly large hornet flies to the same spot over and over again.

Once the queen has found a suitable spot, she builds the hornet's nest out of carefully chewed and saliva-covered, rotten wood. At the same time, an egg is placed in each finished honeycomb, from which the first larvae finally hatch. These are initially taken care of by the queen, but after about four weeks the first finished workers take over both the care of the other offspring and the nest building. From this point on, the hornet queen is only occupied with laying eggs and thus continuously provides for offspring. The queen lays around 40 eggs per day.

Prevent nest building and drive away the hornet queen

If you discover a single hornet in spring that is obviously busy building a nest, you can drive it away with gentle means. This is useful, for example, if the animal wants to place its home in an extremely unfavorable place - for example in a roller shutter box, under the canopy or near the terrace. Perfume the exposed area with clove oil, a scent that is not at all popular with hornets, and seal the entry point with an impenetrable material. Close-meshed insect nets, for example, are very suitable for this, but also simple construction foam. Offer the hornet queen an alternative nesting option in a less dangerous place, for example in a hornet box.

hornet queen


Hornets are protected

However, you are not allowed to catch or kill the hornet queen. Hornets are - like all other wasp species - protected by the Federal Nature Conservation Act, which is why catching and killing the animals can be punished with fines of up to EUR 50,000, depending on the federal state. For the same reason, you are not allowed to remove a hornet's nest that has already been built, but must obtain official approval to do so. Once this has been granted - which only happens in exceptional cases - commission a specialist with the relocation. This can be a fire brigade, a professional pest controller or a beekeeper. You have to bear the costs yourself.

Can the hornet queen sting?

Since the sting evolved from the laying apparatus, only female animals have one. Both the queen and the workers can sting, only the male drones cannot. The hornet queen's sting is slightly longer than that of her worker, after all, the ancestor is about ten millimeters taller than the average subordinate. In contrast to bees, hornets can sting several times. Incidentally, drones cannot sting, but act as if when threatened.

How dangerous is a hornet sting?

"Seven stings kill a horse, three a human and two a child." (Popular belief)

The above “popular wisdom” is an age-old misconception that probably stems from the ancient custom of using hornets as a weapon of war. Back then, the animals were locked in locked clay jugs and thrown over the walls of besieged cities. There the vessels burst and the confused, frightened hornets stung en masse in fright. In fact, the hornet's “poison” is no more harmful than that of a wasp, but chemically very similar to it. Only those allergic to wasp venom need to be careful with hornets, because this similarity often leads to cross-reactions. However, with a single sting, a honey bee releases a much higher dose of “poison” than a hornet, which is mostly due to the sting remaining in the skin.

First aid after a hornet sting

hornet queen

The painful stimulus after a hornet sting is explained by the longer sting that penetrates deeper into the skin. However, the pain subsides quickly, especially if you cool it down as soon as possible. Clear, fresh water is very suitable for this. Alternatively, you can also apply Fenistil gel or a cream based on aloe vera. If you have an aloe vera plant at home, simply cut a piece of a leaf and open it lengthways. Then place it on the stitch with the open inside facing down. A doctor's visit is only necessary if allergic symptoms become noticeable after a sting.

Way of life and duties

The queen and hornet people are busy between May and October, with each animal performing its assigned tasks during this time. While the queen is busy laying eggs and taking care of the hierarchical order, the workers get the food, look after the offspring and guard the nest. The hornet's life cycle follows a strict scheme.

Mating and reproduction

Towards late summer, more so-called sex animals hatch, which are the new young queens and the male drones. Depending on the strength of the hornet state, more or less new queens are produced, as most of them mate with only one drone or a few drones anyway. The young queens fly out of the nest from September and initially eat a supply for the winter. Only then do they come to the mating flight with the drones - usually on a sunny autumn morning. The young queen then looks for suitable winter quarters as quickly as possible.


The drones, on the other hand, die a few days to weeks after mating. Even the old queen breathes her life out in October at the latest or is even killed by her workers. Finally - often with the onset of the first frosts - the last workers also die. With this, the hornet colony is completely wiped out, except for the wintering young queens. Only in the coming year will the "offspring" emerge, provided that they have survived the winter, new colonies.


Immediately after mating, the young queens look for suitable winter quarters in order not to be surprised by a cold snap or eaten by a predator such as a bird. They prefer the smallest cracks and crevices, for example in walls, but they also dig tunnels in soft, rotten wood or bury themselves in the earth. These winter quarters are often located near the old nest and thus close to human dwellings. Many of the young queens do not survive the winter, freeze to death or fall prey to hungry birds or other predators.

What does the hornet queen eat?

hornet queen

Hornets are extremely good hunters, and the workers in particular excel as such. They are the ones who fetch protein-rich food for the larvae and also prey on wasps and other insects for this purpose. The adult hornets, on the other hand - and thus also the hornet queen - feed to a large extent on plant juices and nectars, which is why the animals are often found on trees that are rich in sap (e.g. lilac, willow, ash or birch) and are very fond of sweet fruit. However, unlike wasps, hornets are rarely attracted to human food.

frequently asked Questions

Do the workers lay eggs too?

In the hornet state, the queen alone is responsible for laying eggs. However, the workers are not sterile, but have fully functional ovaries. However, these actually only produce eggs in very rare cases, as the workers leave them inoperable themselves. Recent research has shown that the queen by no means makes her workers sterile with pheromones. Should a worker lay eggs, they are quickly discovered and eaten by the others. Hornet workers sometimes lay eggs only towards the end of the summer, when the queen is not or hardly taken care of or is already dead. However, these can no longer develop properly due to the advanced season.

How long do the drones live?

The male hornets - called drones - have a very short life expectancy of just a few weeks. They hatch towards the end of summer and die right after mating with the young queens.

What happens to the hornet people when the queen dies?

A hornet colony without a queen cannot survive as the workers themselves only have a maximum life expectancy of four weeks and the queen is solely responsible for laying eggs. Should the queen actually die before the end of her life - for example due to an infection - the workers also start laying eggs, but these are not fertilized (there was never a mating!) And so only male hornets hatch. However, these cannot contribute to the survival of the hornet colony.

How big can a hornet people get?

A hornet colony is nowhere near as big as a colony of bees, for example, but with a good food supply and suitable weather, it can grow to 600 to 700 individual animals.

Does the wooden bee also belong to the hornets?

The wooden bee - due to its similarity to the hornets - is also known colloquially as the “black hornet”, but actually belongs to the real bees and is therefore not closely related to the giant wasps. The heat-loving insect can be up to three centimeters long and is therefore the largest type of bee found in Germany.


Hornets belong to the threatened species and are therefore under strict nature protection. You can do something to preserve this fascinating species by hanging special hornet boxes in the garden. These are often used by the queen to build nests and also have the side effect that the animals do not settle near the house.