Asian Hornets could soon reach the UK
As if British beekeepers didn’t already have enough to worry about with Varroa mites, colony collapse and crops of honey from fields of oilseed rape, but now the potential threat of the Asian Hornets reaching our shores is looming ever closer. .
The picture on the left shows the Asian Hornet Vespa velutina nigrithorax, it is more orange in colour than the Giant Asian Hornet or our European native hornets (below right), but the most distinctive features are the orange colouration to the legs and single orange stripe across the abdomen, which are absent in both our native European species and the Giant Asian Hornet Vespa mandarinia (below right). You can view and download a wide range of information about them from DEFRA here.
Even a relatively small colony of Asian Hornets can raid and completely wipe out a healthy hive of honeybees in a few days, so could in theory work it’s way round many hives before it’s been noticed, even if the beekeeper is doing their regular hive checks. The Hornets have progressively spread through France since their accidental introduction in 2005, said to have arrived in a container of pottery, shipped from China.
As this map shows, they have now reached the northern coast of France and whilst this stretch of the English channel is quite wide, so it’s unlikely they will be able to cross there, if they progress East it’s a much shorter flight across the channel, so it’s quite possible they could arrive on our shores in the relatively near future, so this could soon become another issue for the British beekeeper to contend with.
Beecraft magazine, is running a series of articles about this very topic at the moment and a study is being conducted by the Non Native Species Secratarist to ascertain:
- How likely it is to arrive in the UK?
- How likely it will establish here?
- How likely it is to spread throughout the UK?
- What would the impact be?
It’s a very real threat and if you suspect a sighting of an Asian Hornet, you should photograph it and report it to DEFRA. The implications of losing our honeybees are huge, as it’s said that they are responsible for up to two thirds of pollination here in the UK, so without them crops would fail and a food shortage would likely follow without dramatic changes to farming.
This video from the National Geographic shows how the Japanese Hornets (a subspecies who are not currently a threat in the UK) can attack and completely wipe out a hive of honeybees.
In Asia and Japan, the native honeybees are able to defend themselves by creating a cluster around the hornet and raising their body temperature to effectively both cook and suffocate it, however our native bees have not evolved to deal with them and are therefore completely defenseless against attacks.