Do you really think they might be japanese hornets? You probably need to contact your state apiary department if that be the case. I read in one article (a Russian website so take it with a grain of salt) that some people are keeping them as "pets" in the USA...say what???? inch:
Not sure what to tell you, DaleNash, about eradicating them...basically what AB mentioned about entrance reducers and finding and killing the hornet colony.. There's a couple of diy options for yellow jackets and regular hornets, though I don't know if that would do the trick.
I had hornets killing my bees last summer, and made a trap (a plastic coke bottle with a 1/2" hole, with vinegar, sugar water and chopped up banana peel in it, I found the recipe on here somewhere but don't see it now, this blog has it though http://suburbanrancher.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/new-traps/) and I hung it 3 feet from the hives... I killed 1000s of hornets with that thing, and no bees went in. This summer I've only seen one hornet around the hives so far.
Without seeing photos, I would guess they are European hornets. They get big also, and they are all over here in the states. They will eat honey bees, but never heard of them being a big problem. Having said that I guess it is only a matter of time before the asian hornet gets here. I hope I am wrong about that, our bees are not used to dealing with that kind of predator.
Dale, what you have is most likely European hornets, make some traps using the recipe provided by beemartin. It is always best to kill off the first few queens that show up at your hives in the spring before they build into a multitude of hornets that can decimate a hive.
We had a bit of a problem last year. Hornets hanging around the hive, sometimes grabbing a bee and flying off. We tolerated it but kept an eye on them to make sure things didn't get out of hand. This year we found the new nest, with the queen in it, starting to build. We terminated them on the spot. They chose to set up shop just outside the back door of the house, not gonna happen.
The above links and recipes could be most helpful. Hornets are beneficial in many ways, especially for garden pests, but you have to find the balance of what is good, or threatening in your particular situation.
Around here I don't think the queens do the "overwinter solo" thing, but rather the colony stays viable all winter. Up your way it may be cold enough that they overwinter solo. If it is cold in your area so that the queens overwinter alone something you may try next year is to get your traps out early in the spring. The solo queens will be flying as they look for a place to build a colony. You may have a chance of trapping the queens that are flying at that time. If you catch a queen you've basically caught a colony. :applause:
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