Beekeepers and the public warned to stay ‘vigilant’ over sightings of invasive Asian hornets

Asian hornets kill our bees  (Pixabay)
Asian hornets kill our bees (Pixabay)

Beekeepers are being warned to remain vigilant over the presence of Asian hornets following sights of the flying insect in Rayleigh, Essex.

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has emphasised that people should take care not to approach or disturb a nest.

Asian hornets are not generally aggressive towards people but an exception to this is when they perceive a threat to their nest.

Nicola Spence, Defra’s chief plant and bee health officer, said: “By ensuring we are alerted to possible sightings as early as possible, we can take swift and effective action to stamp out the threat posed by Asian hornets.”

The insects, not to be confused with Asian giant hornets, are believed to have arrived in Europe in a shipment of goods imported to France in 2004.

They were first sighted in Britain in 2016 in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, and the last sighting, of a single Asian hornet, was reported in Felixstowe, Suffolk, in April this year.

Why are Asian hornets so threatening?

Although they don’t pose a threat to humans, they are known to be predators of other insects, such as honey bees, and can raid hives and eat them.

In France, it has consumed large numbers of bees, including the well-known European honey bee, and many lesser-known solitary and colonial-bee species.

Since bees are a crucial part of healthy ecosystems, organisations dedicated to nature conservation, like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, are worried about how Asian hornets could affect bee populations.

They’ve been recorded in the UK on at least three occasions and relevant authorities have swiftly eradicated these individuals.

What do they look like?

The Asian hornets are distinctive for their yellow legs and black head and yellow face. Its body is a velvety brown or black while the abdomen is almost dark, except for the fourth abdominal segment, which is dark yellow.

European hornets, on the other hand, have a brown and yellow striped abdomen.

The queens reach up to 3cm (1.2in) in length.

Unlike our native hornet, Asian hornets are only active during the day.

How to get rid of them

If you see an Asian hornet, it is advised not to approach or disturb it, especially if you see the nest.

Asian hornets are not generally aggressive towards people but an exception to this is when they perceive a threat to their nest.

You need to report a sighting via the Asian Hornet Watch mobile app or by filling out a form on the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology website.

Like many other social insects, the queens survive the winter and emerge to create new colonies in the spring. It’s important to locate nests immediately and destroy the hives ethically.