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Are hornets good for anything?

Hornets are often feared and disliked by humans due to their aggressive nature and painful stings. However, hornets actually play an important ecological role and can even benefit humans in some ways. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at hornets to understand if they serve any useful purpose or if they are simply pests.

What are hornets?

Hornets are large wasps that belong to the genus Vespa. There are over 20 species of hornets found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. Some of the most common hornet species include:

– European hornet (Vespa crabro)
– Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia)
– Bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata)
– Yellowjacket wasps (Vespula species) – often mistakenly called hornets

Hornets build paper nests made from chewed wood mixed with saliva. Their colonies can contain hundreds to thousands of individuals and are usually built in trees, shrubs, or man-made structures.

Hornets prey on other insects like flies, bees, butterflies, and even spiders. They kill their prey by stinging it repeatedly. They also scavenge for sweet foods like flower nectar and tree sap.

All hornet species can deliver a painful sting, but some like the Asian giant hornet have an especially potent venom that can be fatal to humans in rare cases. However, hornets are not aggressive unless their nest is disturbed.

The ecological role of hornets

While hornets may seem like bothersome pests, they actually play an important ecological role in the environments where they live. Here are some of the beneficial services hornets provide:


Hornets are voracious predators that hunt a wide range of prey species. By keeping populations of flies, caterpillars, and other insects in check, hornets prevent any one species from becoming overly dominant. This helps maintain biodiversity.


As hornets visit flowers to drink nectar, they also transfer pollen between plants. This makes them occasional pollinators for some species. Their contribution to pollination is minor compared to bees but still helps with plant reproduction.


Hornets will scavenge dead animals and trash for food. Much like vultures and hyenas, hornets help clean up decaying organic matter in the environment.

Soil enrichment

The nests built by hornets provide rich organic matter to the soil as they decompose. Abandoned hornet nests contain nutrients from the nest materials and waste products of the colony. This small amount of soil enrichment can help fertilize plants.

Pest control

By preying on agricultural pest insects like caterpillars and flies, hornets can help protect crops to a certain degree. Their hunting of garden pests makes them occasional allies to farmers and gardeners, despite their vicious stings.

Benefits of hornets to humans

In addition to their ecosystem services, hornets can provide some direct benefits to people. Here are a few examples:

Honey production

Some tropical hornet species like Vespa soror produce honey. Local people will harvest this hornet honey for food. Hornet honey is said to have a spicy flavor and medicinal value.

Textile dye

In Asia, hornet nests are collected to produce a brownish-yellow dye. This dye can color silk and other fabrics. It was especially valued in the past for dyeing Buddhist monks’ robes.

Traditional medicine

Dried hornet larvae, pupae, and whole nests are used in traditional Eastern medicine. They are thought to have anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and other therapeutic effects, though clinical studies are still needed to verify medicinal benefits.

Novelty food

The larvae and pupae of some edible hornet species are harvested as food in parts of Asia. People eat them fried, boiled, or even raw. While potentially dangerous due to venom, hornet brood is valued by some as a novelty food.

Scientific research

Hornet venoms and nests are studied by scientists to discover new pharmacologically-active compounds. For example, the venom of the Asian giant hornet contains chemicals that show promise as analgesics. Hornet nests also have interesting properties, like the paper’s natural antibacterial effect. More unique chemicals and materials may be uncovered through continued hornet research.

Risks of hornets

Despite their ecological benefits, hornets do pose some risks that reduce their desirability near human activity:

– Their stings are extremely painful and cause allergic reactions in some people.

– Swarms of stinging hornets can quickly become deadly. Around 30 to 50 stings are fatal to humans.

– Hornet nests in infrastructure and buildings like sheds or playground equipment can create hazards.

– Hornets may reduce bee populations. Though they pollinate, hornets also prey heavily on beneficial bees.

– In Asia, giant hornets are devastating honeybee colonies. This can negatively impact crop pollination.

– Non-native hornets can become invasive pests outside their natural range, such as Asian giant hornets in North America.

Are hornets protected species?

Most hornet species are not protected or endangered globally. Exceptions include:

– The Asian giant hornet is protected in some provinces of China where it is considered vulnerable.

– Vespa ducalis, found across much of Asia, is classified as Near Threatened due to habitat loss.

– Vespa crabro, the European hornet, is protected in parts of central Europe like Lithuania and Romania.

– Some rare tropical hornet species are threatened, like Vespa affinis limited to parts of Southeast Asia.

In general, hornets are abundant and not imperiled in most regions. But habitat conservation helps protect rarer hornet species. Most places view common hornets as unprotected pests.

Killing hornets humanely

While hornets play an ecological role, they often must be controlled when near human dwellings. If removing hornets, it should be done humanely. Some recommendations:

– Only kill hornets if they pose an immediate threat. Try deterring them first.

– Do not spray nests with chemicals like insecticides. This is inhumane and will release venom.

– Avoid burning nests as burning insects alive is extremely inhumane.

– Contact beekeepers who can remove hornets through trapping methods. This causes less suffering.

– Wear protective clothing to prevent stings if removing nests manually.

– Dispose of nests in sealed bags to prevent escaping hornets.

– Be aware of legal restrictions. In some areas, licensed pest control operators must remove certain hornet species.


Hornets are often viewed negatively and called pests, but they do serve ecological roles through predation, pollination, and other services. A few hornet products even benefit humans directly. However, hornet stings and nests near populated areas necessitate controlling them humanely. With proper education on hornets and prudent management, we can obtain the benefits they offer while minimizing their disturbance. If left alone away from people, hornets fill their niche in the environment as important insect predators.