Hornets appear very similar to common wasps, but are larger and coloured chestnut-brown (rather than black) and yellow. The largest of the British social wasps, they build papery nests in hollow trees, although hornet nests have been discovered in wall cavities and chimneys.
The hornet’s life cycle is similar to that of the common wasp. Newly-mated queens hibernate during the winter, and emerge in spring to begin building a nest. They lay eggs that hatch into sterile female workers who take over nest building and collecting food for the developing larvae. Later in the summer males and fertile females hatch. These mate and the females become next year’s queens. The males, old queen and workers die in the autumn.
Hornets have an unwarranted fearsome reputation, but will only sting humans if attacked.
Both adults and larvae eat mainly insects. Adults may also take spiders and queens may supplement their diet with tree sap and windfall fruit. They also stock up on nectar before hibernating.