European Hornets really are fearsome looking beasts: significantly larger than their more abundant cousin, the wasp, and boasting both a menacing set of mandibles – used to great effect to shred insect prey – and a particularly large stinger. They are also rather striking, clad in alternating shades of warm red, yellow and black. A factor which, when coupled with their approachable nature, makes them great fun to observe in the field.
Before today, I had never encountered hornets in North East England. Traditionally, they do not occur here: instead favouring the warmer climes of Southern England where they go about their business in mature woodlands, copses and other tree-strewn areas. The species has been spreading North in recent years, however. They have recently colonised Yorkshire, though records this far North remained absent until earlier this year when a single individual was unearthed at the The Natural History Society of Northumbria‘s Gosforth Park reserve, near Newcastle.
Now, some months later, it is safe to say that this impressive wasp has successfully colonised this particular site, perhaps representing the most Northernly breeding population in the UK? I am unsure. Either way, with multiple workers and emmerging queens now on the wing, I thought I ought pay a visit to appreciate these insects in the flesh. I was not disappointed, with a number of individuals observed making the most of some fermented banana, kindly placed out by the reserve’s warden.
European Hornet, Vespa crabro, Gosforth Park Nature Reserve