Travis Watson plucked hornets off his hands and arms as the insects fled from a massive nest they had built inside an old Chevrolet El Camino.
Video shows the hornets swarming Sunday as an exterminator destroyed their nest, which stretched from the car’s ceiling all the way down the driver’s side seat. Watson, who owns an Ohio-based bee-removal service called the Bee Man, said the nest in Alliance, near Cleveland, housed about 800 to 1,000 European hornets that had built a substantial home in “the most unusual place I’ve found these guys.”
“On this one, I was nervous because I’ve never seen a European hornet nest this big,” Watson, who has worked in the field for 13 years, told The Washington Post on Monday. He said the hornets were also bouncing off a screen protecting his face. “How could your adrenaline not be pumping when you’re doing something like this?”
Experts say European hornets are large — with the queen measuring about an inch and a half long. Although Watson said they are not typically dangerous when away from their nests, “they defend their nest very aggressively.”
Watson posted the video on Facebook over the weekend, showing him pumping pesticide into the hornets' nest before breaking it apart. He said the nest, which he estimated to weigh between three and four pounds, filled several plastic bags. Watson, also a beekeeper who rescues honeybees, said he exterminates hornets because they are pests and can kill honeybees.
Watson said the hornets, which look for confined spaces away from the elements, had gotten into the vehicle through a crack in the window.
“I wasn’t expecting what I found,” he said.
Watson said European hornets are new to the area he services around Austintown, Ohio, about 70 miles southeast of Cleveland. The hornets were first reported in the United States in the 1800s, according to the entomology department at Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
The queen emerges in the spring, searches for a secluded spot such as a hollow tree (or perhaps a living room wall) and starts to build the nest, using a hornet-made paper created from tree bark and the insect’s saliva, according to Watson and Penn State. She then begins to lay eggs and, within a couple of months, leaves the construction to the worker bees so she can focus on laying more eggs.
By September or October, the hornets' nest has typically reached its maximum size of about 800 to 1,000 hornets.
Watson said that European hornets can sting repeatedly and that they pose a greater threat to people who are allergic. He said he has been stung in the past but takes precautions, wearing a special suit and gloves.
“I don’t mess around with these guys,” he said. He discourages homeowners from attempting to get rid of European hornets on their own.
Watson said the hornets in Alliance were exterminated. After the video gained widespread attention on social media over the weekend, he said, someone who has an insect museum in Pennsylvania asked him for the nest.