Swarm of Hornets Attack a German Wine Festival Sending 13 to Hospital

A wine festival suffered an agonizing interruption when a swarm of hornets descended on the crowd, stinging and hospitalizing over a dozen attendees.

The incident took place in the southwestern German town of Weingarten at the Wein-Wander-Tag event in the region's vineyards near the Swiss border, where wine lovers had gathered to mark the final few weeks of summer over the weekend. Emerging from a hollowed cherry tree, hornets attacked the group, injuring 18 people.

Two rapid response units arrived on the scene shortly after. Thirteen people were admitted to hospital for treatment. No children were hurt in the incident and none of those hospitalized are suffering from life-threatening injuries. A pest control expert ensured the nest was properly moved to a safe location, public broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.

Before turning on the crowd, the insects were gathered in their nest inside a nearby tree trunk, and it is not clear what disturbed them enough to attack. The victims of the stinging frenzy were apparently hiking through Wingarten's vineyards as the hornets entered the fray, Stuttgarter Zeitung reported.

Hornet stings can be very dangerous, especially to individuals with allergies to the insect's venom. The city's deputy administrator Patrick Nagel told the Rhein Neckar Zeitung newspaper that authorities were investigating other nearby trails for hornet nests, in order to preempt a similar incident.

An expert on the insects suggested the hornets may have been provoked. "I assume that something has happened," Thomas Lauber, the district's hornet expert said. "Hornets are usually peaceful animals. The nest lies in the hollow of a cherry tree. Maybe someone came too close to the tree or shook it."

File photo: A hornet (Vespa Crabro) eats an insect in Berlin on August 19, 2018. A swarm of hornets attacked a German wine festival, injuring 18 people. Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

The insects are protected in Germany, meaning that hornet nests should not be deliberately moved by anyone besides authorized experts. Technically, illegal killing of a nuisance bug like a wasp or hornet could be worth a fine of 5,000 ($5,780) to 50,000 ($57,833) euros, according to Euronews. The official exemption is only for those with allergies to the insects, however the prosecution rate for this charge is low.

Germany added hornets to its list animals protected under the Ordinance on the Protection of Wildlife and Plant Species of 2005, and two regions in neighboring Austria have made similar moves in order to prevent the wanton destruction of the species. Hornets' main benefits to ecosystems overlap with that of bees, as they pollinate flowers, but also they help control the populations of spiders and insect pests.