Asian hornet in the UK

The National Bee Unit has confirmed the discovery and identification of an Asian hornet in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. The press release has further details.

Asian hornet

Asian hornet …

These hornets are smaller and darker than the European hornet. Note in particular how dark the abdomen is, with only the fourth segment predominantly yellow (in contrast with our European hornet where at least half of the abdomen is yellow). The National Bee Unit has a very useful guide to identifying the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) and distinguishing it from the European hornet (Vespa crabro).

Inevitably there’s going to be a lot of statements about “the end of beekeeping as we know it” and speculation of the impact it will really have on our colonies. Time will tell whether it’s been identified early enough to eradicate, how it arrived in deepest Gloucestershire and where it came from.

The Asian hornet has been established and spread widely in France since inadvertent importation in 2004 from China. It was discovered in the Channel Islands earlier this summer. It’s arrival on the mainland was expected, but is nevertheless disappointing.

8 thoughts on “Asian hornet in the UK

    1. David Post author

      Possibly … and potentially of greater concern in the warmer South than the chilly North.

      Interesting that they turned up in Gloucestershire. Are these the only ones, or the only ones found so far? I’m a bit surprised – assuming they flew here from France – that landfall wasn’t further South and East. When the midges carrying blue-tongue virus arrived in the UK (2006?) they were carried on Easterly/North easterly breezes to the Kent coastal areas. I’m sure hornets can fly much further/better than midges but they’d have to cross ~120km of Southern England from the landfall point closest to France (Normandy) to reach Tetbury … all should become clear once the DNA testing is completed.

      David

      Reply
        1. David Post author

          I guess both are possible, but it’s spread widely in Europe simply by flying … a few days of strongish Southerly winds are probably all that were necessary.

          Reply
  1. David

    Interesting that DNA testing can tell how it came to Tetbury. How does that work? Or does it give some pointers on where it came from through comparison with DNA of specimens taken on the continent.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      It’ll indicate where the closest related hornets are located, not how it got there. Should have been a little clearer. Apologies. Of course … if the nearest genetic relatives are from China we can be reasonable sure it didn’t fly here 😉 It arrived in France in pottery.

      Reply
  2. Mick Smith

    This doesn’t bode well for ourselves or our bees, contrary to what the NBU say I was under the impression that the sting of this evil creature was thought to be quite dangerous to humans, let alone the possibility of it colonising and destroying colonies of honey bees within a very short space of time.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Mick
      There have been reports of people stung badly. However, I’m not sure it’s any worse than the European hornet. To my knowledge no-one’s been daft enough to do a comparison (it always amused me your namesake working out the worst place to get stung by a bee … the opening sentence of this National Geographic article is a classic … perhaps worth an article in BeeTalk).

      In terms of the impact on beekeeping … we’ll have to see. There’s an interesting paper modelling the likely spread in Europe based upon climate which suggests Scotland might be OK, but that the South of England might be warm enough for the hornet to become established (which is not the same as ‘detected’, which is the situation at the moment). However, far too early to tell yet. If we get a brutally hard winter it’ll probably kill off anything that’s arrived already … but beekeepers will probably then suffer high colony losses due to poor Varroa management.

      Certainly not good news though.
      Best Wishes
      David

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *