Vespa orientalis

Taxonomy

Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Vespidae
Subfamily: Vespinae
Genus: Vespa Linnaeus, 1758
Species: Vespa orientalis Linnaeus, 1771
Common name: Oriental hornet

Background

Vespa orientalis Linnaeus is the only species of Vespa found in desert climates of North Africa, the Middle East, and southwestern Asia. They are sometimes confused with Vespa mandarinia because of their size and predatory habits. They prey on insects including honey bees to feed their larvae. Vespa orientalis adults feed on nectar and fruits. This hornet is best known for its ability to collect solar energy via the yellow bands on its abdomen. This adaptation enables it to flourish in hot, arid environments.

How to separate from Asian giant hornet

  • This species has not been recorded from the U.S. although it has been introduced to Chile and Mexico
  • The Oriental hornet is slightly smaller than Asian giant hornet
  • The body is uniform dark reddish-brown with bright yellow markings on the abdomen
  • The head is reddish-brown and the face is bright yellow

Distribution

The Oriental hornet occurs in the southern part of southwest Asia, North Africa, and Madagascar. This hornet has also been introduced by humans to Chile, Mexico, northwestern China, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. It has not been seen in Madagascar for many years.

Distribution map of Vespa orientalis by GBIF: https://www.gbif.org/species/10212955

Diagnostic characteristics

  • Length 25–35 mm (1.0–1.5 in.), with queens larger than the workers and drones
  • Reddish-brown in color, with bright yellow bands on the abdomen
  • Head with yellow patches between the eyes
  • Males have 13 antennal articles (segments), females have 12

Diversity

The most recent taxonomic revision of the genus synonymized subspecific names in the genus Vespa, changing them to informal names for regional color forms (Smith-Pardo et al. 2020).

Host/prey associations

The adults feed on sugary substances such as nectar and sap. They prey on relatively large-bodied insects like grasshoppers, flies, honey bees, and even yellowjackets. These hornets are considered honey bee pests because they attack colonies to obtain honey and bee larvae and adults to feed their young. They will also scavenge proteins from fresh or spoiled meat and fish. Workers strip bark from twigs, tree branches, and shrubs to collect fiber to build their nests.

Nesting and general behavior

The Oriental hornet is eusocial, with a queen and multiple workers. Their colonies are annual, founded each spring by new queens. The nests are generally built underground but some are also built in protected sites, like hollow trees, shipping containers, parked vehicles, and sheds (Archer 1998).

A mated queen starts the colony in the spring, and the colony will grow throughout the year, reaching a peak size of several thousands of workers and 600–900 cells. In the fall the queen begins laying eggs that will develop into new queens and drones. After mating, the drones die, and the young mated queens seek hibernacula to overwinter.

The yellow markings on the Oriental hornet’s abdomen can absorb sunlight to energy to aid it in digging (Plotkin et al. 2010). This enables this hornet to have its peak activity during the middle of the day.

Known invasives

Vespa orientalis has been introduced to Mexico, Chile, Madagascar, and northwestern China, as well as occasional introductions associated with fruit into Belgium and the United Kingdom (Dvorák 2006).

<p><em>Vespa orientalis</em>; photo by Dr. Alexey Yakovlev, Flickr</p>
<p><em>Vespa orientalis</em>; photo by Rachid H, Flickr</p>
<p><em>Vespa orientalis</em>; photo by Rachid H, Flickr</p>
<p><em>Vespa orientalis</em>; photo by Rachid H, Flickr</p>
<p><em>Vespa orientalis</em>, dorsal view; photo by Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Vespa orientalis</em>, lateral view; photo by Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Vespa orientalis</em>, anterior view; photo by Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Vespa orientalis</em> (left) compared to <em>Vespa mandarinia</em> (right), dorsal view; photos by Hanna Royals and Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Vespa orientalis</em> face (left) compared to <em>Vespa mandarinia</em> face (right), anterior view; photos by Hanna Royals and Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>