Asian hornet


Invasive Asian hornets have survived a UK winter for the first time, confirmed by DNA analysis, indicating they may establish a permanent presence.

This species poses a significant threat to honey bees and could severely impact native pollinators and biodiversity, as noted by master beekeeper Lynne Ingram.

The insects, which can eat up to 50 bees a day, had previously flown into the UK from France during the warmer months.

“The DNA analysis has now proved they are overwintering – they could get really established here,” Ms Ingram said.

DNA samples collected from hornets trapped by the National Bee Unit in Four Oaks, Kent, revealed they were offspring of a nest destroyed in nearby Rye in November 2023.

Each hornet nest can produce up to 350 queens, with about 10% surviving the winter to start new colonies. The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) is now urgently seeking to locate and destroy other nests before new queens are produced.

“We know that some of the nests we found last year, the queens had already been produced,” said Ms Ingram, who is the Asian hornet teams coordinator for Somerset Beekeepers Association.

“And they leave the nests and go into hibernation for the winter, and they’re very difficult to find,” Ms Ingram added.

Native to Southeast Asia, Asian hornets can spread globally through cargo. They are widespread in mainland Europe, with France home to an estimated 500,000 nests.

While their sting is painful, it poses no significant risk to human health. However, they are deadly to honey bees and other crucial pollinators, consuming up to 11 kg of insects annually, with a single hornet able to kill up to 50 bees daily.

“A [honey bee] hive is like a supermarket for an Asian hornet – they just have to wait outside,” Ms Ingram said.

The BBKA is encouraging the public to report sightings of Asian hornets via the Asian Hornet Watch app. The insect is slightly smaller than the native European hornet and can be identified by an orange band at the base of its abdomen and distinctive yellow legs.

Asian hornets were first detected in the UK in September 2016. Last year, the National Bee Unit, part of the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra), destroyed 72 nests in 56 locations, primarily in Kent.

“There is a high risk of this species becoming established in the UK, and it will take intensive effort to limit the speed of spread,” the unit said.

Defra has said it “continues to stand ready to respond quickly and effectively to any further possible sightings”.

Sightings and nests have been reported in Canterbury, Rye, Folkestone, Sandwich, and Four Oaks.

Efforts continue to monitor and manage the spread of this invasive species to protect the UK’s pollinators and biodiversity.



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