Worcestershire Record No. 17 November 2004 p. 29


John Tilt

In the summer of 2003 I recorded Hornets in Grafton for the first time. One of the tit boxes was taken over and we also found several nests in the coppice plots.

This summer after the blue tits had vacated their nests, six of the nine boxes were taken over by Hornets. In addition I found other nests in hollow trees and even in a hole in a tarpaulin protecting some logs.

One of the nests outgrew the box and became a huge intricate construction which I photographed regularly. I could get quite close to the nest as the Hornets appeared to be non-aggressive.

On one occasion, in fact the last occasion I photographed them, I was dive bombed by several hornets. They don’t buzz round your head like wasps but charge straight into you with their abdomens pointing forward. Having read that Hornet stings were either “not as bad as a wasp sting” or alternatively were “known to have stung a horse to death”, I decided that discretion was the best course of action and ran like mad down the ride. Unfortunately as I ran I dropped my glasses. After some time I decided to retrieve them from just under the nest box. I was dive-bombed again but this time one stung me on my chin, fortunately through my beard.

In conclusion:- Hornets can be aggressive, the sting is worse than a wasp sting and as I seem to have survived to tell the story they don’t kill large mammals.

(Editors note: Having treated hornets in much the same way as bumble bees – nice furry harmless creatures – I have become much more circumspect following Brett Westwood’s experience last year (Worcestershire Record 15:41. 2003) and this report. I am not expert in these things but following conversations with bee-keepers and of reading of several wasp attacks on birds I think we have a pheromone problem! It seems as if when these social hymenoptera sting in defence of the colony (real or imagined threat!) they release a pheromone which activates a mass attack from the colony! A bee-keeper told me that he and a colleague had been working on a hive with no problems until he put on some old gloves which had been stung in the past. Even though the gloves had been carefully washed and cleaned, the bees stung them immediately – the pheromone still lingering, perhaps. Undoubtedly hornets are usually very tolerant of people. I have often been very close to nests with the insects flying round me and I have not yet been stung! It you do get stung I understand that anti-histamine medication helps, but I am not offering medical advice and suggest that if you are stung badly a visit to you GP might be advisable).

Hornet nest in and on tit nest box in Grafton Wood
Photo J Tilt

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