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Massive Hornets: Understanding the Buzz

European Hornets in Muskoka

Ah, Muskoka in the spring – the promise of summer, warm breezes, and, oh yeah, hornets. If you've noticed some big buzzing beasts lately, you're not alone. Given all the hype around, it's high time we had a little chat about them.

There exists more than one large hornet in Muskoka, but we have seen an influx of one in particular this year. What we've been seeing is the European Hornet (Vespa crabro). And just so you know what we're talking about when we say large, here is a size comparison to the common wasp.

Size comparison of Common Wasp and European Hornet - Pure Muskoka

Pretty terrifying huh? We'll save you the trouble of reading the whole article and let you know right off the bat that it's pretty harmless and has been in Ontario for a long time. It's just more prevalent this year. But European Hornets do have a scary doppelgänger, "Murder Hornets" officially know as the Norther Giant Hornet or Japanese Hornet (Vespa mandarinia). Spoiler alert: You can stop having unnecessary freak-outs because we don't have 'em in Ontario.

Let's go through a little comparison so you can know the difference and avoid any pointless insect slaughter.

Meet the Hornets

European Hornets (Vespa crabro)

This species was accidentally introduced into eastern North America more than 160 years ago and today it is common in parts of Ontario. It is a very large wasp (2.5-3.5 centimetres), but smaller than a northern giant hornetThey fit right in and seem to enjoy Muskoka as much as we do.
  • Size: Workers range from 1 to 1.5 inches, with queens slightly larger.
  • Colour: Reddish-brown head, yellow face, and a body decked out in brown and yellow stripes. The darker stripes have a "tear drop" shaped appearance.
  • Behaviour: Not as quick to anger as their Asian cousins, but they will sting if you tick them off. They’re night owls, buzzing around lights when other wasps have called it a night.
European Hornets - Mid-Flight - Pure Muskoka


Northern Giant (Murder) Hornets, aka Japanese Giant Hornets (Vespa mandarinia)

Let's address the "murder hornet" moniker. Media hysteria, anyone? Sure, these guys are big – the largest hornets on Earth, in fact. Native to Asia, they're about as subtle as a chainsaw in a library.

  1. Size: Queens can reach up to 2 inches. Workers are a solid 1.5 inches.
  2. Colour: Picture a bright yellow/orange head with big black eyes and a dark body streaked with yellow/orange bands.
  3. Behaviour: Venomous stings and aggressive tendencies, especially around their nests. Plus, they have a nasty habit of decimating beehives – not great for our ecosystem. But, relax, no confirmed sightings in Ontario yet
Comparison - Northern Giant (Murder) Hornet vs European Hornet - Pure Muskoka

Identifying the Differences

  1. Size and Appearance:
    Northern: bulkier.
    European: are a bit more streamlined.
  2. Coloration:
    Northern: Bright yellow/orange heads with dark bodies.
    European: Reddish-brown heads and striped abdomens with teardrop-shaped dark bands.
  3. Behaviour:
    Northern: Aggressive, bee-killing machines.
    European: Mellow until provoked, more common in Muskoka this year.

Vintage Hues Collection - Pure Muskoka
Vintage Hues Collection - Pure Muskoka


Why the Fear and Confusion?

Blame it on the media blitz in April. Those "murder hornet" headlines had everyone seeing monsters in every buzzing bug. It's easy to panic when you don't know what you're looking at. European hornets, despite their size, are more bark than bite. They're more common this year, but usually harmless if left alone.

What to Do If You Encounter These Hornets?

Stay cool. If you spot a big hornet, don't go all Rambo. They usually mind their own business unless provoked. Keep your distance, avoid sudden moves, and let it buzz off. Got a nest problem? Don't play hero – call in the pest control pros.

And about those Northern giants – the Ministry wants any large hornet sightings reported, even though they're not confirmed to be here. We're not even sure these hornets could handle Ontario winters.

Fun Facts About Hornets (Yes, Really)

Believe it or not, hornets have their perks. They munch on other pests, which can save your garden from ruin. They do a bit of pollination while feeding on nectar. And, while they might not be cuddly, they're an integral part of our ecosystem. Just checking if you're still awake with that last bit.

Stay curious and calm, Muskoka!

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9 comments

  • dee

    It would be nice if they ate ticks… the tick population is out of control in Ontario.

  • Diane Caesar

    I caught one today I m so scared of them really bad

  • Jennifer Guberney

    We have a very large murder hornet at our cottage on lake shebeshekong in Carling. It is very obviously orange on back end and SO big! He’s eluded capture twice. They are quite terrifying in size.

  • Cindy

    The park closure in Niagara in 2018 was due to Eastern cicada-killer (Sphecius speciosus). There have still been no confirmed cases of the Asian Giant Hornet in Ontario

  • Bryan Kenny

    Please be aware that southern Ontario Canada has had parks and playgrounds closed to remove ground nests of Japanese Murder Hornets.
    August 5, 2016 Foreman’s Park in Niagara Falls had to close the dog park for the removal of ground hornets from the small dog park and Japanese Murder Hornets from the large dog park.
    They’re here and need to be reported when seen.
    They’ll follow them back to the nest and remove them.

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