Hornets (insects in the genus Vespa) are the largest of the eusocial wasps, and are similar in appearance to their close relatives yellowjackets. Some species can reach up to 5.5 cm (2.2 in) in length. They are distinguished from other vespine wasps by the relatively large top margin of the head and by the rounded segment of the abdomen just behind the waist. Worldwide, there are 22 recognized species of Vespa, Most species only occur in the tropics of Asia, though the European hornet (Vespa crabro), is widely distributed throughout Europe, Russia, North America and Northeast Asia. Wasps native to North America in the genus Dolichovespula are commonly referred to as hornets (e.g. baldfaced hornets), but are actually yellowjackets.
Like other social wasps, hornets build communal nests by chewing wood to make a papery pulp. Each nest has one queen, who lays eggs and is attended by workers who, while genetically female, cannot lay fertile eggs. Most species make exposed nests in trees and shrubs, but some (like Vespa orientalis) build their nests underground or in other cavities. In the tropics, these nests may last year-round, but in temperate areas, the nest dies over the winter, with lone queens hibernating in leaf litter or other insulative material until the spring.Hornets are often considered pests as, except for the European hornet, they aggressively guard their nesting sites when threatened. The European hornet, however, rarely attacks people even those close to its nest. Other species, however, should be treated with great respect as their stings can be more dangerous than those of bees.