British beekeepers are spearheading the campaign to alert everyone in the UK to the threat posed by the Asian hornet. These hornets were accidentally introduced into France in 2004, it is thought in a consignment of terracotta pots from China. This one mated queen successfully bred and her progeny have spread across Europe and the Channel Islands and are now threatening our country. They were first seen in the UK in 2016, so far 18 sightings have been made and 9 nests destroyed. We are currently in the eradication phase – as far as we are aware, every nest that has been discovered has been destroyed before it has been able to reproduce – and we are hoping to keep this going for as long as possible!
Asian hornets are not just efficient predators of bees – our hives are handy ‘all you can eat’ buffets – they will happily take any pollinator back to their nests to feed their larvae. Once the population is established, we could see similar issues as has been happening in some parts of Europe, ie large numbers of hives destroyed and eventually a reduction in crops due to lack of pollinating insects and hornets damaging fruit. Reducing pollinators also has a knock-on effect for birds’ food sources as well.
Asian hornets are no more likely to sting than the larger European hornets, but can be defensive if you get close to the nest. So please be careful and stand well back, but if you can, send us a photograph of an insect out and about or even a nest if you think you have spotted one. Last year three nests were destroyed in the UK, two of them were in Christchurch, that’s not very far from here!
Asian hornets are slightly smaller than our native European hornets. They have distinctive yellow legs compared to other insects. The body is a very dark brown or black while the abdomen is almost all dark, except for a very thin yellow line at the top of the abdomen and the fourth abdominal segment which is dark yellow. The Asian hornet has a black head and yellow face. Typically Asian hornet queens (egg-layers) are 30 mm in length and males about 24 mm while the workers measure about 20 mm in length.
In contrast, the European hornet has a mid-brown body and brown legs and the abdomen has colouring that looks like that of a scaled-up wasp.
Asian hornets start a very small nest in March/April, and then as the colony grows, usually move to a secondary nest higher up, but not very far away. Although a tall tree is usual, nests have also been found in hedges, cliff tops and barns. They are most likely to be spotted in September/October, which is why Asian Hornet Awareness week is in September.
How you can help
Farnham Beekeepers have an Asian Hornet Action Team (AHAT) which works in tandem with other AHATS, the local bee inspector and the National Bee Unit to help identify hornets and track nest sites. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org , preferably with a picture or two if you suspect that you have seen an Asian hornet.
Please take great care if you think you have seen a nest, do not under any circumstances get any closer than 10 metres. Asian hornets are very defensive of their nests, though they are not any more aggressive than wasps or European hornets when they are out foraging.
There is also the Asian Hornet Watch app which can be downloaded from your usual app store. This will give you identification information and enable you to send your photograph to experts to get their opinion.
There is a lot of information about and many photographs of Asian hornets on www.AHAT.org.uk
See the Asian Hornet Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/345541099280201/