Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

A Buzzworthy Find: European Hornet Identified For The First Time In Vermont

A close-up photograph of a European hornet on a piece of wood.
The yellow, black and brown European hornet is nearly twice the size of Vermont's more familiar black-and-white baldfaced hornet. A European hornet was identified for the first time in Vermont last month.

The first Vermont specimen of the large European hornet was found in the southern part of the state and identified last month by the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

The department says it’s possible the species has been here for a while and only just now been identified.

The yellow, black and brown insect is nearly twice the size of Vermont’s more familiar black-and-white baldfaced hornet. The European hornet first appeared in this country when it was inadvertently introduced in the mid-1800s and now ranges from the Northeast into the deep South and west to the Dakotas.  

Michael Skvarla, director of the Insect Identification Lab at Penn State University, said what sets the European hornet apart is the fact it’s the only hornet that forages at night.

“They can be pests around porch lights at night," he said. "If you’re trying to sit out on your porch, they’ll come and buzz around the light, feeding on moths and other insects that come to the light."

Skvarla said European hornets are also different because they build their paper nests hidden in tree hollows and even in walls, unlike the exposed locations favored by their baldfaced cousins.

The European hornet first appeared in this country when it was inadvertently introduced in the mid-1800s and now ranges from the Northeast into the deep South and west to the Dakotas.

Skvarla said he sees European hornets in his field work, and he noted that “they’re great to photograph because they’re so big.”

However, he explained, the insect is not doing as well in Europe as it is in its adopted country.

“It’s illegal to kill this subspecies of European hornet in Germany because they’re endangered in their native range,” Skvarla said.  

European hornets will feed on yellowjackets and other baldfaced hornets, caterpillars and a wide variety of insects. They also prey on honeybees.

While European hornets can be beneficial by killing harmful insects, they can also damage bushes and shrubs, particularly lilacs, by stripping off bark on branches to get at sap. Like their relatives, the insects can be aggressive when disturbed.

While they belong to the same family of wasps that includes yellowjackets and baldfaced hornets, the European hornet is the only true hornet found in North America.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
Latest Stories