Look what we found on our kitchen wall the other day.
This is a hornet, Vespa crabro, our largest social wasp. This is quite a little one, as it happens, though it’s about twice the size of a regular wasp. And just look at that pointed nose: straight out of Bug’s Life, don’t you think?
I think we must have a hornet’s nest not far away as we found a proper grown-up one of these buzzing extremely loudly and angrily against our skylights not so long ago as well. That one was seriously enormous: a good couple of inches from nose to tail.
Everyone I have mentioned this to has immediately gone into a ‘don’t panic!!’ routine quite worthy of Lance Corporal Jack Jones. In fact, though, I think hornets suffer from a bad press. They are accused of everything from stinging people viciously with no provocation to ripping off the heads of poor innocent little bumblebees. Unfortunately for them, this is a recurring case of mistaken identity, with a good dollop of ignorance thrown in. This is a particular shame as they’re actually quite rare, and what’s more they eat loads of nasty garden pests – including aphids and caterpillars.
In fact, hornets will only sting when quite severely provoked: on the whole they are quite docile creatures. You’re far more likely to be stung by a conventional wasp (which is a spiteful little creature much less deserving of sympathy).
And as for the ripping the heads off bees thing: that’s not this hornet. That’s the Asian hornet, Vespa velutina: and now that’s an insect to strike fear into your very heart. Fortunately you’re unlikely to see one in the very near future, as although they’ve made it to the south of France (where they are ripping the heads off honeybees even as I write, no doubt) they haven’t – quite – made it here yet.
However, it is probably only a matter of time: the flood of insects arriving on our shores, largely hiding in imported plants arriving in our garden centres and therefore our gardens, is reaching plague proportions (step forward, citrus longhorn beetle, oak processionary moth, harlequin ladybird and the now ubiquitous lily beetle). They reckon we’ve got about 10 years before the Asian hornet arrives: when we, and no doubt their relatively harmless European cousins, should be afraid. Very afraid.