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What Does the European Giant Hornet Look Like?

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The giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is an Asian species who bears a number of resemblances to the European hornet (Vespa crabro), a close relative. The giant variety is easily distinguished from his kin due to his sheer size. The key distinction between the two is that the European hornet, although a potential pest species, is not considered lethal to humans, while the Asian giant variety is.

They're Bigger Than the Rest

Asian giant hornets are the largest members of the hornet family. Their body span can reach up to 1.5 inches. The queens can be even larger, often up to 2 inches. By contrast, European hornets reach, at largest, 1.3 inches. European hornets are much less robust and chunky when compared with their Asian cousins.

They're Yellow Banded or All Black

European hornets have a classic warning coloration of yellow contrasted against dark brown, which deters prey. The contrast serves as a visual warning that the hornet may not be appetizing. Asian giant hornets may display this coloration, too, but some specimens are solid, metallic black. This diversity of color is not common among the entire hornet species; the bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) the only other species that displays full-black body coloration.

They Have Distinctive Faces

The giant hornet has a deeply incised clypeus that sets him apart from other species. The clypeus is the lower portion of what one might describe as the face. This gives the hornet a distinctly different facial appearance to the European hornet, which has a much more angular and characteristically waspish face. The mandible of the Asian giant hornet is large relative to the head and has a tooth that enables the hornet to burrow. The European hornet has a smaller, less powerful mandible.

Some Differences Are Subtle

Size and color differences aside, the bodies of the Asian and European hornets are relatively similar. The giant hornet has a slightly more arched back, owing to the larger scutellum, while the European hornet has a sleeker silhouette. The arched appearance of the giant’s back gives the impression of a pinched waist or medial line. However, the Asian giant's medial line is analogous in relative size to that of the European hornet.