Hornets, like many social wasps, can mobilize the entire nest to sting in defense, which is highly dangerous to humans and other animals. The attack pheromone is released in case of threat to the nest. In the case of the Asian giant hornet (V. mandarinia), this is also used to mobilize many workers at once when attacking colonies of their prey, honey bees and other Vespa species. Three biologically active chemicals, 2-pentanol, 3-methyl-1-butanol, and 1-methylbutyl 3-methylbutanoate, have been identified for this species. In field tests, 2-pentanol alone triggered mild alarm and defensive behavior, but adding the other two compounds increased aggressiveness in a synergistic effect. In the European hornet (V. crabro) the major compound of the alarm pheromone is 2-methyl-3-butene-2-ol.
If a hornet is killed near a nest, it may release pheromones that can cause the other hornets to attack. Materials that come into contact with these pheromones, such as clothes, skin, and dead prey or hornets, can also trigger an attack, as can certain food flavorings, such as banana and apple flavorings, and fragrances that contain C5 alcohols and C10 esters.
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