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The European hornet, Vespa crabro, is the largest European eusocial wasp; the queens averaging around 3cm in length (the queen pictured below measured 3.5cm, with a wingspan of 5.5cm). With the exception of the Median Wasp, Dolichovespula media, whose queens resemble small worker cast hornets in size and colour (D. media is yellow and black with small areas of red whereas V. crabro is a brown, red and yellowish-orange species lacking any deep black markings), it is unlikely to be confused with any other species.
Once only common in central southern England, it has now extended its range from Cornwall to Kent and northwards into Yorkshire. It has also been recorded from The Isles of Scilly, Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands. It is found in many lowland habitats, but is particularly associated with ancient deciduous woodland.
Queens emerge from their over-wintering sites in early April and nests are initiated, usually in hollow trees or similar cavities, in May with the first workers generally appearing around late June to early July. New queens and males, which emerge from the nest from September to October, mate and then disperse, with the males dying and the newly-mated queens seeking over-wintering hibernation sites. Back at the nest, which may persist into November in mild seasons, the old queen and remaining workers eventually die-out. V. crabro predates on a number of invertebrate species including other social wasps, honey bees, flies, butterflies, moths (hornets can forage in moonlight) and spiders. Prey is often taken from flowers and the vegetation of trees. In late summer and autumn, workers are sometimes attracted to exudations from deciduous trees; particularly oak. Workers, males and new queens will also visit Ivy, Hedera helix, blossom for nectar.