• Harry

The Asian Hornet - mad, bad and dangerous to know?

Updated: Sep 5, 2019

Of course no insect is either mad or bad but, out of place, it can be dangerous.

The Asian Hornet (Vespa velutina) - copyright Giles San Martin

Although picnickers and beekeepers may not like them, wasps and hornets are a natural part of our ecosystems. They are the hunters in our gardens and help keep insect pests at bay. Our native hornet is the European Hornet (Vespa crabro). It's big (between 2-4cms long) and has large jaws and a loud buzz. It looks rather frightening but is rarely aggressive to humans. Perhaps because of its awesome appearance it is often assumed to be the non-native Asian hornet - which has an increasingly fearsome reputation.


The European Hornet is larger and with a yellower head/body than the Asian Hornet - copyright Julian Black

The Asian or yellow legged hornet (Vespa velutina) was introduced to France in 2004, perhaps on imported plants or untreated wood. With no natural predators, it spread rapidly. It has been widely studied in France because of the damage it has done to honeybee populations. Whilst not the only problem bees face (there are pesticides and parasites such as varroa) total losses have amounted to 30%. The hornet hunts for bees outside beehives and can kill up to 50 bees a day. Their presence stops the bees leaving to forage and so, ultimately, the hive weakens. It might not fail immediately but is unlikely to be strong enough to go into winter.

The Asian Hornet poses a significant threat to honeybees and other pollinators

The Asian hornet has been sighted in the UK but concerted action has stopped its spread so far. It has been sighted, in Hampshire, for the first time this year. British Beekeeping associations are setting up teams to spot them and deal with them when they do appear. It's important to remember though, that this hornet doesn't only hunt honeybees. It hunts other insects such as bumble bees and so can potentially damage whole ecosystems.


WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE ONE?

The Asian hornet is active between April and November. Likely places to see them: hovering in front of beehives, on camellias in spring and near flowering ivy in autumn. Mated queens over-winter in natural and man-made sites such as under tree bark or under ceramic plant pots. They make very large nests in trees (in rural and urban places) and in man-made structures such as garages. Do Not disturb active nests. You can:


Download the free Asian Hornet Watch app. from Apple and Android app stores


Report suspected sightings, with a photo if possible to alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk or www.nonnativespecies.org/alerts/asianhornet


Credits for these images go to :

Gilles San Martin via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Julian Black via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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