How dangerous is a hornet sting?

How dangerous is a hornet sting?

the essentials in brief

  • Those who are not allergic to insect bites will be in severe pain, but a visit to the doctor is superfluous
  • The sting should first be treated with heat and only in a second step with cold
  • Sucking out the sting makes sense immediately after the attack to remove the poison
  • In the event of stings in the eye or throat area, a doctor should be consulted on humans, babies and pets

What to do with a hornet sting

Depending on the type of sting and the constitution of the person stung, more or less treatment is necessary after a hornet sting. A healthy person who is not affected by an insect venom allergy and who is stung in an uncritical area does not actually need to take any special measures. Here it is sufficient to use aids against the pain, swelling and itching. The following are suitable as first aid:

  • Treat with heat first
  • Clay or suction
  • Then cool
  • Onion or vinegar
  • pain medication if necessary

also read

  • How dangerous is a bumblebee bite?
  • The Asian ladybug - how dangerous is it?
  • How dangerous is mold in the sandpit?


Heat can reduce the release of histamine, which reacts to the insect venom, and thus reddening, swelling and itching. You can use a battery-operated heat stick from the pharmacy or alternatively the metal head of a lighter heated with the flame or a washcloth soaked in hot water.

Clay or suction

The application of astringent clay or suction must be just as acute. The puncture channel in the skin closes very quickly and makes the injected poison inaccessible from the outside. But if you act immediately after the hornet attack, you can get rid of at least part of the poison in this way and significantly reduce the subsequent symptoms. When sucking out with the mouth, however, the poison must be spit out again quickly because it can attack the mucous membranes and be absorbed through them.


Afterward, cooling gives most of the pain relief. Wrap a cold pack or ice cube into a tea towel and use it to cool the stabbed area at intervals.

hornet sting

Onion or vinegar

The old home remedy of pressing a sliced ​​onion onto the stab site can also help. The acid has a disinfecting and therefore itching effect. Vinegar can also slow down the inflammatory reaction.


You can also resort to pain relievers to relieve the pain. Easily administered ibutrops for the night can help especially with children.

Hornet sting in children / babies

Children and babies may be more challenged by the (perhaps new) experience of a hornet sting than an adult, but it is not significantly more dangerous for them. As explained in the section on the toxicity of a hornet sting, only in the rarest of cases, namely only in the highest degree of insect venom allergy, is there a risk of death. So treat a hornet sting in a child the same way you treat an adult. Of course, the same applies to the little ones: As soon as the sting is in the eye or throat area, an emergency doctor should be consulted.


With a hornet sting, it is worth a lot if you give your child a lot of attention - this way the pain is much easier to bear. Distraction from reading aloud or TV shows can also help. As a consolation, you can also wrap coolpacks in a beloved cuddly towel or a favorite washcloth, for example. To relieve the pain at night, you can also administer painkillers in a dose appropriate for children.

Hornet sting in animals

It is best to put a cooling bandage on the paw of your dog or cat. If your four-legged friend is stung in the eye or throat area, you should consult a veterinarian immediately.

How dangerous is a hornet sting?

hornet sting

Because many consider the hornet to be more dangerous than it is, a sting can sometimes cause a certain panic. But if you look at the facts, you can see that there is no need for undue worry. In general, hornet stings are no more dangerous than bee or other wasp stings.

Wasp vs. Hornet sting

The sting of a hornet is of course longer than that of a German wasp - equivalent to body size - and therefore perhaps more frightening. Because it penetrates deeper skin layers, it can also cause more pain for a short time. In numbers, the sting of a hornet worker measures 3.4 to 3.7 mm, that of a wasp about 2.6 mm. The stings of both species are equipped with a poisonous bladder that injects the poison through a channel into the puncture site.

How devastating the consequences of a sting are depends on the one hand on the amount injected and on the toxicity and composition of the poison. And here you can calm down, because many of these variables are surprisingly harmless in hornets.

Amount of poison

The pure amount of infused poison is even lower in hornets than in their smaller conspecifics. In bees, barbs on the stinger ensure that the stinger stays longer in the puncture site and can empty the entire contents of the poisonous bladder. Because hornets, like other wasp species, do not lose their sting when stinging and can sting several times, only a small proportion of the poison is released at a time. The numerically exact average amount per sting has not yet been officially established for hornets.


When it comes to toxicity, you can actually relax. Because here too, bee venom is in a much more dangerous area. The poisonous effect of hornet poison is defined at 8.7 to 10.9 mg per kg of body weight. This means that a larger amount is required for the same poisonous effect than with bees. In non-allergy sufferers, several hundred to a thousand stings would only end fatally on this basis. However, such a case is virtually impossible because of the usual hornet colony size of a maximum of 200 individuals.

The hornet species Vespa affinis or Vespa orientalis are known to have died after about 300 stings. However, these species are more poisonous than our Vespa crabro.

For those allergic to insect venom, hornet venom poses a serious risk. In the case of so-called anaphylaxis, an intensified, acute immune system reaction, even a sting can be life-threatening.


What turns things around again is the composition of the hornet poison. Compared to wasp or bee venom, it contains the substance acetylcholine, which causes a burning, pulsating sensation of pain. In a study by the American entomologist JO Schmidt, the pain sensation from a hornet sting was classified as identical to that from wasp and bee stings.

Symptoms of a hornet sting

Hornet sting hand

Outwardly, a hornet sting does not differ from a bee or wasp sting. Around the puncture site there is usually a more or less severe swelling and reddening and soon severe itching due to the defense reaction to the foreign protein.

The part of the body where it sits is also decisive for the impairment caused by a hornet sting. It is of course less annoying on the leg or arm than on the foot, hand, finger or face. On the head you still have to differentiate with regard to the danger: a sting is not really more critical on the forehead than on the limbs, on the eye or in the throat area, however. Swelling in the throat can impair breathing and require acute treatment.

Insect venom allergy

Anyone who suffers from an insect venom allergy is at a much greater risk from a hornet sting than non-allergy sufferers. In general, however, only around 0.8 to 4% of the population are affected. And the intensity of such hypersensitivity is also fundamentally different.

There are 4 degrees of severity that go beyond local reactions:

1. MildSevere itching, nausea
2. ModerateSame as grade 1, but also edema, tightness, vomiting, gastrointestinal cramps, dizziness
3. DifficultLike grades 1 and 2, but also shortness of breath, swallowing and speech disorders
4. Life threatening - anaphylactic shockSame as grade 1, 2 and 3, plus drop in blood pressure, unconsciousness, circulatory collapse, incontinence, blue discoloration of the skin

Fortunately, the highest degree of severity associated with anaphylactic shock occurs extremely rarely. In 1999 the Federal Statistical Office registered a total of 21 deaths of people allergic to insect venom as a result of an insect bite.

Hornets - a portrait

The hornet, zoologically Vespa crabro, belongs to the family of the wasps and the subfamily of the real wasps. It is closely related to German and common wasps, the striped insects that we know all too well from their annoying visits to the breakfast or coffee table.

The hornet is the largest species living with us. A queen can reach a stately body length of 23 to 35 millimeters, the worker bees are 18 to 25 millimeters long. The drones are between 21 and 28 millimeters in length.

Hornets can be distinguished from other wasp species primarily by their size, but also by their color. Here is a brief overview of the most important distinguishing features in comparison with the German Wasp:

hornetGerman wasp
sizeWorkers: 18-25 mm, queens 23 to 35 mm, drones 21 to 28 mm longWorkers 12 to 16 mm long, queens up to 20 mm, drones 13 to 17 mm long
coloringMiddle segment (upper back) colored black and red-brown up to the first third of the abdomen, behind it yellow with black pattern (regionally different)Black back label with yellow markings, abdomen with clear yellow-black stripes and with dots on both sides
Body shape and other identifying featuresTypical wasp shape (wasp waist), head quite broad at the back, more clearly separated from the middle segment, wings tinged with reddishOverall straighter body shape, head and middle segment not significantly narrower than the abdomen, wings narrower, colorless
hornet sting

Like all social wasps, hornets live in states. Like other wasps, they build their nests from chewed wood pulp, which makes the constructs look like paper mache. A hornet colony remains smaller than the colonies of other wasp species. Due to the short lifespan of the workers (20-40 days), there are no 200 individuals living at the same time, even in the high season in September.


Not all hornets are created equal

It is generally less known that hornets form a genus of their own within the real wasps - there are several hornet species within the genus, the eponymous hornet, the Vespa crabro, being the best known in our country.

However, there are around 23 species worldwide and some of them are even larger than our native hornet. The queens of the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), for example, reach a frightening body length of up to 55 millimeters. In fact, this hornet species is far more dangerous than the Vespa crabro that lives here. But here in Central Europe it does not occur.

How dangerous are hornets?

Hornets intuitively evoke feelings of fear in many. Because they are so much larger and hum so much deeper than other wasps, which cannot necessarily be considered cuddly toys, this is understandable. However, their external appearance characteristics are not directly transferrable to their dangerousness.

"Seven hornet stings kill a horse, three an adult and two a child."

This popular wisdom is widespread and stubbornly anchored in the collective consciousness to this day. It has long since been exposed as a wives' tale. No horse dies from seven hornet stings, just as no adult dies from three or a child from two. In any case, this cannot generally be said to be a fact.

However, that does not mean that hornets are completely harmless. Under certain circumstances the animals are of course dangerous. The following factors in particular play a role:

  • Situation and handling of the animals
  • Individual sensitivity to insect venom (allergy)
  • Type of hornet

Danger depending on the situation

How dangerous a hornet or an entire colony of hornets can become depends largely on the situation. Because although they generally prefer to forego stinging and are less offensive than wasps, hornets can be quite defensive when under pressure. The most important thing when dealing with them is therefore not to disturb or attack them. Incidentally, this is also prohibited under nature conservation law because of their species protection. Those who encounter hornets peacefully and carefully will also be left in peace by them.

Correct behavior includes, above all, not to move hectically near a hornet's nest, not to make any noise, and not to hit or blow away individual animals. You should also be careful not to accidentally squeeze them. All of this irritates the hornets and puts them in a defensive mode.


Since hornets also hunt at night, they can easily fly into your home in the dark. In that case, you should quickly turn off the lights and open the windows wide. In this way, the animal usually finds its way back into the open on its own. During the day, it is advisable to catch stray hornets with a soft-meshed catcher and bring them outside.

With a rare hypersensitivity to insect venom, the danger of a hornet is of course much higher. You can find more about insect venom allergy below.

Finally, the type of hornet also plays a role. Depending on the species, the animals have a different composition of poison and behave differently aggressively. The common hornet that lives with us is, however, not more poisonous and significantly less aggressive than other wasp species. More dangerous species are more likely to occur in tropical or Far Eastern areas.

frequently asked Questions

What does a hornet sting look like?

Usually a hornet sting is no different from any other wasp or bee sting. If the person stung does not suffer from an insect venom allergy, a light red discolored wheal, which can be up to 10 centimeters in diameter, occurs. If the optical characteristics remain within these limits, you do not have to worry that the reaction indicates an allergic sensitivity that requires special treatment.

How much and how long does a hornet sting hurt?

Depending on how deep the stinger has penetrated the skin and how much poison has been injected, a hornet sting hurts more or less. In general, a hornet sting goes deeper under the skin than bee or other wasp stings because of the longer sting. That alone can lead to more pain. The acetylcholine contained in hornet poison also causes a burning sensation that is absent from wasp or bee stings.

In an American study, however, the pain sensation from hornet stings was rated just as high as that from bee or wasp stings.

How long a hornet sting hurts depends on the type of sting and the individual reaction parameters. In a healthy person who is not overly sensitive, the pain usually subsides after about 4 to 5 days, even with moderate follow-up treatment.

Allergy sufferers do not have to reckon with a longer duration, but above all with a higher intensity of the complaints. Depending on the severity of the overreaction, the pain is more intense and the symptoms are multiple, but they do not last much longer.

Can you die from a hornet sting?

Basically yes. However, certain requirements must be met for this. Fortunately, deaths from hornet stings are extremely rare.

The risk of dying from hornet stings is increased, especially in people who are allergic to insect venom. However, it is only likely that this will actually happen if the allergy is very pronounced and an allergic shock is triggered.

Certain hornet species that we do not find here, such as Asian giant hornets, are more poisonous and more aggressive than the common hornet native to here. In Japan, an average of 40 people die from allergic reactions to stings of this type.

What home remedies are there for hornet stings?

Hornet stings are generally best treated only with home remedies - because this category also includes the simple measures of heat and cooling treatment. Pressing a hot lighter or a washcloth soaked with hot water on the spot immediately after the bite can significantly reduce the release of histamine and thus itching, redness and swelling in advance.

Clay can also be used to pull the insecticide out of the wound, but for an effective effect it must be applied to the area immediately after the puncture. The puncture channel closes very quickly.

Then cooling with ice or cold packs is the best measure against the pain.

A sliced ​​onion or onion juice or even vinegar can help quickly against the inflammation.

Quark compresses provide pleasant and skin-caring cooling.

Does homeopathy help with a hornet sting?

The effectiveness of homeopathy is generally highly controversial. Numerous studies contradict each other and trigger heated discussions about compliance with established scientific standards. More and more people are relying on the gentle therapy method, which treats like with like and, if it may only trigger a placebo effect, at least does not harm.

Homeopathic remedies against insect bites represent the principle of the method in the most elementary way: Because the trigger of the complaints also serves as a treatment substance. Globule preparations such as Apis mellifica consist of whole honey bees and their venom. They can therefore be used in particular for bee stings, but should also help against wasp and thus also against hornet stings.