An unwelcome arrival

You may have seen the news that a sighting of an Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) was confirmed in the Fowey area of Cornwall. Since then there have been further sightings in Liskeard, Cornwall, and Hull, East Yorkshire. Asian hornets have been widespread in France since 2004, but hadn’t been recorded in the UK until late summer 2016 when a nest was located in Gloucestershire.

Asian hornet 1

Asian hornet. Image © Jean Haxaire

These sightings are not good news because Asian hornets are aggressive predators, feeding on honey bees and other insects – although we don’t know yet the extent of damage they cause. Previous outbreaks of the Asian hornet have been successfully contained by the UK government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency using bee inspectors who promptly track down and destroy the nests. The intention is to do the same again.

If the Asian hornet becomes established in England, it may eventually reach Scotland. Therefore it is important to be able to identify this invasive species and report possible sightings. The Asian hornet is likely to be near beehives, so beekeepers in particular should be on the alert.

Asian hornet. Image © Jean Haxaire

Asian hornet. Image © Jean Haxaire

The Asian hornet can be easily mistaken for our native species, even though it is smaller. One of the key features for identification is the abdomen; it is entirely dark except for the fourth segment, which is yellow. Native hornets have a yellow abdomen with black patches or stripes.

The GB Non-native Species Secretariat has produced an ID sheet and alert poster that are very useful for identification.  Also non-native species and mobile applications experts at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology have collaborated with the UK government to develop a new app to record and monitor sightings of the Asian hornet.

Suspected sightings can be reported to alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk or through an online form.

You can also follow the DEFRA twitter account for updates.

Asian hornet 3

Images 1 and 2 © Jean Haxaire