The European hornet is easily distinguished from our common yellowjackets. It has a large, robust body with a characteristic black and orange striped abdomen. The head, parts of the thorax, and front of the abdomen are patterned in reddish brown coloration. The head is swollen behind the eyes, and ocelli (the small, simple eyes on top of the head) are remote from the rear margin of the head.
Workers usually hunt active insects, which they masticate and feed to the larvae in the cells of the nest combs. They have been known to raid bee hives, taking the bees and their larvae and pupae as food, but leaving the honey.
As its common name implies, the European hornet is native to central and western Europe, but it is never found north of the 63rd parallel. In North America, it was first found in New York State in the mid 1800s. During the following century, it spread slowly through southern New England and south through New Jersey and Pennsylvania to Virginia and North Carolina. By 1973, outlying populations were detected in scattered localities in Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.In the late 1970’s and early 1980s it spread rapidly across Kentucky. By the early 1980s, isolated reports revealed that it covered the area from Maine and southeastern Canada south to North Carolina and west to Michigan and Tennessee, with only scattered occurrences in states south of Tennessee and North Carolina, and for Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and adjacent areas north of Missouri and west of the Mississippi River