Plenty of buzz over big hornet

A captive European hornet, found in Russell, on top of a measuring tape. Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry

Like many people, I’m not terribly fond of wasps and stinging critters in general.

Bigger certainly does not make them better.

The other day, while visiting in Russell, we were sitting in an enclosed back porch at night.

I saw something large flying around near the light and pointed it out.

I thought it was a large, but not enormous, moth. Then again, the wings were moving very fast and the body wasn’t bouncing up and down like something with big, feathery wings.

It was flying around pretty quickly, so it took a while before any of us got a good look at it.

When we did, it was alarming.

There were a couple yellow jackets hanging around the light.

This was one giant “yellow jacket.”

What I had seen was what I would call a wasp. But not a normal one. It was BIG.

It dwarfed the yellow jackets. It was more than twice as long and far bulkier.

After watching it from behind glass for a while, our host went out with a fly-swatter. The kids thought that was a VERY bad idea. I thought so, too.

He smacked it and it actually fell to the floor, stunned.

We had not planned well for the next step.

This huge bee was on the steps and we wanted a good look at it without it being pulverized.

I ran around looking for a plastic baggie.

After a few moments – many more than I would have liked if I had been the one with the angry super wasp staring at him – I got one.

I went out, opened the door next to the thing (kids thought that was a bad idea, too) and we bagged it.

It was alive. It wasn’t healthy, but it wasn’t mush.

We took pictures, made some measurements, and generally studied the creature.

It somehow looked smaller up close than it had when it was flying around, but it was still much too big.

We forwarded pics to contacts with knowledge of things bug.

I didn’t have an entomologist on speed dial, so I reached out to my friendly neighborhood fisheries biologist, figuring if he couldn’t help, he would have contacts in the Department of Agriculture who could.

He didn’t hesitate. When I told him the size of the thing – my best estimate was 1.3 inches in length – and sent him a picture, he came back with European wasp.

My wife’s contact took a little longer, but actually is an ‘entomologist.’ Complete agreement.

Good news, it wasn’t a murder hornet – which is something I don’t remember hearing of until Thursday.

But, it was still gigantic. I figured I should take it to a specialist and report its location and all that stuff so the authorities would know.

Nope. There was no need to do anything. My contact said these things have been in the area since 1840.

They’re not that aggressive toward humans unless defending their nest, defending a food supply, or provoked. They eat other large insects – including moths and wasps.

Now I know. But if I see another European wasp flying around Warren County, I don’t think I’ll be a lot more comfortable with it.

Brian Ferry is a Times Observer staff writer.


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