Yellow-Legged Hornet Found in Georgia

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A wasp sitting on lichen-covered bark. It is mostly dark with some yellow markings

A yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina). Photo by Gilles San Martin licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As if we needed another large wasp to strike fear in residents of the US, the state of Georgia is reporting the detection of a single specimen of the yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina) near the city of Savannah. There are no reports yet of an active colony, but the folks down there are busy investigating.

Concerns about this hornet stem from their potential to kill honey bees, as well as establish large colonies of stinging insects. This species creates large paper nests in trees and eaves of human structures, much like our native bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata).

At this time there is no evidence that this wasp is in North Carolina. However, this species has a high potential for invading new areas. Despite this, we have many similar wasps and other insects that might be mistaken for this species. I will be updating these pages with this new species, but for now information on large wasps and their lookalikes can be found on this page.

Characteristics to look for in specimens suspected to be yellow-legged hornets (see images below):

  • queens are about 1″ and workers are about 3/4″ long
  • base of legs dark, while tips (tarsi) are yellow or pale yellow
  • thorax and head mostly dark, though front of face is yellow
  • abdomen with dark base (some thin yellow stripes); segments becoming more yellow near the tip of the abdomen
A wasp sitting on a leaf. It is mostly dark with some yellow markings

A yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina). Photo by Gilles San Martin licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Face, dorsal, and lateral images of a specimen of Vespa velutina.

Face, dorsal, and lateral views of a yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina) specimen. Photos by Todd Gilligan USDA APHIS PPQ ITP

Note that the most common late season, large wasps people will be seeing here in NC are European hornets (Vespa crabro) and cicada killer wasps (Sphecius speciosus). Here are photos of those wasps:

A large European hornet on a tree

A European hornet (Vespa crabro), a large social, paper-nest-making wasp that has been long-established in North Carolina

A large wasp on the ground

A cicada killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus), a large solitary wasp that is native and harmless.

If you suspect you have found a yellow-legged hornet, first check carefully the characteristics mentioned above. If you have photos and/or specimens and are still unsure on the ID, please submit them through the NC State Plant Disease and Insect Clinic’s system (instructions can be found here).

Additional resources: