Not a bee, not a yellow jacket, and why is it out at night?

Enormous “bees” bounce off the glass of our front door.  Dozens of them.  Unlike moths, which flit annoying around light, or June bugs, which bump clumsily against the glass, these look threatening, like mutant yellow-jackets.   They are so big they make a wasp look like a mosquito.  They scare me.

Yes.  They scare me.  Me, beekeeper wife, who takes a cocktail down to the bee-yard to relax while watching honeybees come and go; who can calmly keep reading on the porch even though I am allergic to the black wasp on the screen; who takes pictures of her hubby petting bumblebees and smiles at grandson who does the same.

European Hornet, over an inch long. This one has already taken the oil bath.

So now dozens of them are bouncing off the front door.   We turn off the interior hall light to stop attracting them.  This is not a permanent solution, however.   I refuse to live in a dark house because of a few insects.  I tell John he has to do something.

John used an unobtrusive clear soda bottle…and he even took the label off!

Not knowing what they are or where they nest, the best John can do is kill the ones who show up at our door.  He resurrects his bug-catching invention that he devised years ago to catch live insects for our frogs Frieda and Franny.  The contraption involves cutting an opening in the side of a two liter soda bottle and hanging the bottle from an outside light.  The insects are attracted to the light, bounce off the soda bottle and fall in.  John’s original live bug trap added an aluminum light-reflecting shield (aka, a sliced open beer can).  This time we want the bugs to die.  John fills the bottle with a couple of inches of vegetable oil, thinking that the bugs can drown in it.

The front light goes on.  The hall light goes out.  And we wait. (Well, we go watch tv and check from time to time.)  Unlike moths, they don’t show up immediately.  It isn’t until about 10 p.m. that we notice activity around the light…and a soda bottle filling up with the dead.   As it turns out, they die as soon as they come in contact with the oil.  The next morning, John tosses the marinated bugs into the woods and some critter comes along later to eat them.  Ah…the circle of life.  I love it–as long as I’m not the one in the circle.

A bit of internet research identifies our flying monsters as European Hornets.  The only true hornet.  They were introduced to the U.S. in the mid-to late 1800’s.  I do not know if they were invited or if they crashed our garden party, but they are here now, and happily ensconced all over the East Coast.

Although they look like big yellow-jackets, they do not eat human food and are not a threat to barbecues.  They will not hide in your open soda can.  They eat live insects like crickets and cicadas.   They are not attracted to the porch light per se; they are attracted to the other things that are attracted to the porch light.  They’re just showing up where the action is.  They eat many insects that truly are considered pests.  In Germany, they are a protected species.  Good thing we are not in Germany.

I know where the red viburnum is.  As for the hornets nest…

Unlike honeybees, who give their lives with a single sting, hornets can sting repeatedly and the European Hornet has a nasty big stinger.  Fortunately, they are rather shy and really not aggressive–unless they are defending their nest.  The problem is–we don’t know where the nest is.  They nest in the woods at least six feet off the ground, but they have been known to nest in exterior house walls.  At this time of year, late summer into fall, the colony could range in size from 300 to 1000 hornets.  Homeowners with a nest in the house are urged to call a professional exterminator.  These hornets are tricky and will create new escapes if one tries to block their entrance or spray it.  The last thing anyone wants is a few hundred of these things inside the house.

I know they are not nesting in our solid log walls.  No saying what nooks and crannies they may have found though.  But John says he used to see these way back when he was building the house…so they’ve been here since before the house.  Most likely, they have a nest in the woods, a teeny tiny flight to our front door.

With cold weather, the drones will die off leaving the queen to care for the brood over the winter.  Until then, we’ll be preparing marinated hornets for some unknown creature in the woods.

This mantis is praying that we’ll leave him alone.

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8 thoughts on “Not a bee, not a yellow jacket, and why is it out at night?

  1. I live in northeast Ohio. Usually 1 or 2 European hornets show up around my Florencant light in my garage every night starting in mid July.. I’ve killed a few. Seems there’s always another to take its place.. Hope they don’t have a nest in my attic..

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  2. Thank you so much for this information! We live in the Hereford Zone and have these guys coming to our deck (light areas, yes..) and being so large and out at night, couldn’t figure out who they were and what they wanted. We love bees, beneficials, that is. My kids were all bumble bee petting since they could walk, yet…seeing THESE HUGE YIKES ones….my husband and son wanted to kill them (of course! lol) So glad to know they are really beneficial and will tell my family and neighbors about what I learned here. They do seem to be going into our roof into the house so that may turn into a problem…but at least they are keeping the yellow jacket population down! Thanks again! Great information!

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  3. I saw one a couple weeks ago at the pool and the “lifeguard” went CRAZY . . . the maintainence man came by and said they were harmless but it sure was the biggest hornet I have ever seen…….

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