Home » UK braces for invasion of bee-killer Asian hornets

UK braces for invasion of bee-killer Asian hornets

by Press room

UK braces for ‘fresh wave’ of bee-killer Asian hornets after first insects of 2022 are found on the Channel Islands

  • The first bee-killing Asian hornets of 2022 have been spotted on Channel Islands
  • They were first found on Jersey and now several sightings reported on Guernsey
  • Every year, attempts are made to limit the arrival of the hornets, which eat bees
  • Number of queens on Channel Islands expected to rise as summer approaches

Bee-killing Asian hornets are heading for Britain after the first of 2022 were spotted on the Channel Islands – the front line of the battle to keep the invasive species out.

The insects – which pose a risk to honey bees – were first seen on Jersey last month, and have now been found on Guernsey as well.

Every year, attempts are made to capture queen hornets emerging from hibernation, or those travelling from France, in an effort to limit the arrival of the invasive insects.

Without a coordinated programme from spring to autumn, Asian hornets would become established and widespread across the island within a few years, the States of Guernsey said.

Bee-killing Asian hornets are heading towards Britain after the first of the year were discovered on the front line of the battle to keep the invasive species out (stock image) 

The insects – which pose a risk to honey bees – were first spotted on Jersey last month, and have now been found on Guernsey as well

The insects – which pose a risk to honey bees – were first spotted on Jersey last month, and have now been found on Guernsey as well

WHAT IS THE KILLER ASIAN HORNET INVASION? 

Asian hornets were accidentally brought to France in 2004, probably in an imported shipment of goods.

Since then the dark brown and orange insects have spread rapidly through the country and started to invade neighbouring countries.

They have also become established in the Channel Islands and were first reported in the UK in 2016.

In 2016, an Asian hornet nest was discovered in Gloucestershire and destroyed.

The hornets, which grow up to an inch long (3 cm) and have an orange face, are an aggressive predator of honey bees and other pollinating insects. 

The hornets prey on honeybees, hovering like attack helicopters outside their hives and grabbing them on the wing.

The bees are dismembered before being carried back to the hornets’ nest to be fed to larvae.

The charity Plantlife has warned that the hornet ‘poses a deadly threat to honeybees and other pollinators and any potential sightings should be immediately reported to the GB Non-native Species Secretariat.’

Queens build nests in April. They rapidly start laying eggs until the hive population reaches about 6,000 insects. 

A report by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, estimates that the decline of bees worldwide poses a potentially major risk to world food supplies.

Britain’s bees are thought to have fallen by a third since 2007. The British Beekeepers’ Association warns the public not to disturb a hornets’ nest ‘under any circumstances’.

More than 20 hornets have already been found in Jersey so far this year, as well as two primary nests. 

Meanwhile in Guernsey, the ‘intrusion’ began when one was caught in Alderney last Tuesday, according to Asian hornet project coordinator Francis Russell.

A second hornet was then reported dead on the roadside in the village of L’Islet in Guernsey this week, while another was caught in a queening trap in a garden on the island on Thursday.

The sightings have prompted a fresh warning to islanders to be vigilant to the ‘fresh wave’ of invaders, which threaten native insect populations and can eat 50 bees in a day.

‘We think these are coming fresh from France,’ Mr Russell said.

The wind is set to be north-easterly through the next week.

‘We tend to get Asian hornets during north-easterly winds or just afterwards. I think this is the start. I think more will be found.’

The number of queens found on the Channel Islands is expected to rise as the summer approaches.

Both Jersey and Guernsey are seen as the front line in the fight against the deadly insects.

There are fears that strong easterly winds could ‘blow in’ more Asian hornets from mainland Europe, leading to another summer-long battle to stop the spread of the insects that could decimate the UK’s native bee population.

But experts say there is cause for optimism as the fact the insects are being found quite late in the spring means they are likely travellers coming from France, rather than ones that have been on the island over the winter.

The species began to spread through Europe in 2004 after arriving in the south of France inside a freight ship.

They were first spotted in the British Isles on the Channel Island of Jersey in late 2016.

But after years of establishing themselves on Jersey and Guernsey, the battleground shifted last year to southern England.

This led to calls for a ‘people’s army’ to help fight off an impending invasion of the hornets onto mainland Britain.

Mr Russell said so far this year there was no pattern for the insects, so it was important for islanders to be vigilant.

Every year, attempts are made to capture queen hornets emerging from hibernation or those travelling from France in an effort to limit the arrival of the invasive insects (stock image)

Every year, attempts are made to capture queen hornets emerging from hibernation or those travelling from France in an effort to limit the arrival of the invasive insects (stock image) 

He added that the wind direction was likely to be the reason for the recent sightings.

A ‘spring queening’ project has been set up in Guernsey, with more than 260 traps placed across the island over the last few weeks.

The aim is to catch queens before they have a chance to make nests.

The hornets, which grow up to an inch long (3 cm) and have an orange face, are an aggressive predator of honey bees and other pollinating insects.

The hornets prey on honeybees, hovering like attack helicopters outside their hives and grabbing them on the wing.

The bees are dismembered before being carried back to the hornets’ nest to be fed to larvae.

HOW DOES THE HONEYBEES ‘HOT DEFENSIVE BALLS’ DEFENCE STRATEGY WORK? 

Honeybees should have no chance against the ferocious Asian hornet – the predators are an inch (3 cm) long.

But the tiny creatures can actually triumph by swarming over their foes in such numbers that hornets are ‘cooked’ inside a ball of bees, a technique first discovered in 1995.

The defence mechanism is known as a ‘hot defensive bee ball’.

When hornets attack, they kill all the worker bees, before ‘looting’ a nest for larvae and food. To prevent this, honeybees developed the defence mechanism to stop the predators.

The bees swarm over the hornets in groups of up to 500, and start vibrating their wings until the temperature reaches 46°C (115°F). The heat is fatal for the hornets.

It’s vital that this happens quickly, or the hornets can release pheromones to call for assistance. 

In one study, conducted in 2012, researchers in Japan watched the bees as they assaulted an inch-long hornet – pulling them off the ball as they attacked and scanning their brains to see how they coordinated their attacks.

The scientists, Takeo Kubo of the University of Tokyo and Masato Ono of Tamagawa University sampled bees at different points during the assault – and found that bees engage higher brain functions as they swarm into the ball.

The bees coordinate their attacks, sharing information about heat in the ball – which could be a trigger for the bursts of brain activity.

 

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