I have never been a fan of hornets and even less so when a whole nest of cheerful, orange bottom bees were wiped out in a few hours by hornets at the cottage. And as though our native European hornet isn’t enough of a nuisance, there is a ‘new risk on the block’.
It is thought that Asian hornets were inadvertently brought into France in 2004 in a shipment of goods imported from Asia. Since then, they have spread rapidly across France into adjoining countries and more recently have crossed the Channel to the UK. They are notorious hitchhikers so probably came across in cargo or even with unaware campers, but are possibly capable of making the crossing under their own steam too.
Sadly, there has been a sharp rise in sightings of the Asian species in the UK this year. While 2021 and 2022 had only two sightings reported each year, so far this year there have been 22 confirmed sightings and 9 nests found and destroyed.
The vast majority of the sightings have been in the south of England with one reported sighting in Gloucester in 2016, but let’s face it, it’s not far to Wales from either location. Crucially, it only takes one mated queen hornet to establish a colony and so the Government’s strategy is ‘to locate and kill every hornet and destroy all nests to prevent them from over-wintering and multiplying’.
As far as humans are concerned, the sting of an Asian hornet is (apparently) comparable with the sting of our native hornet but it is the danger they pose to our bee population that is the real concern.
The Asian hornet’s ‘nickname’ of the ‘Murdering Hornet’ has been well and truly earned. They have been seen ‘hovering like a bird of prey’ outside honeybee hives, picking off bees as they come and go. They then murder them in the most barbaric way, eventually taking various body parts back to feed their own larvae. And as if that’s grim enough, when an Asian hornet locates a honeybee nest or hive, it chemically marks it by rubbing its abdomen on the surface, to attract fellow hornets. To gain easier access to the hive or nest, they then chew at the entrance, and kill any defending worker guard bees before looting the hive. They will also return to the same feeding spot again and again at regular intervals until it is exhausted. Just one Asian hornet can eat 300 honeybees in a single day and no insects in Britain have yet evolved to defend themselves - nor does it have any natural predators in this country. Although I think my Nan with a rolled up newspaper would have had a good go.
Asian hornets are smaller than native hornets and can be identified by their orange faces, yellow-tipped legs and have a wide orange segment on the black abdomen. They also have a very distinctive ‘low buzz’, much like the native hornet, I assume and which absolutely demands your immediate attention. It is worth Googling to learn more and familiarise yourself with their appearance, especially as they are at their most active during August and September.
You can find out more and report suspected sightings in Wales at www.wbka.com/asian-hornet-reporting/