Invasion! Beware the killer hornet

This Asian menace is established in France and set to cross the Channel. Jonathan Owen reports

Sunday 16 October 2011 00:00

British beekeepers have been placed on red alert by a government warning that the UK is about to be invaded by the Asian hornet – a species whose favourite food is the honey bee. The aggressive hornet – Vespa velutina nigrithorax – hunts bees to deadly effect. Just a handful of the dark-bodied, yellow-legged hornets can destroy a bee colony in two hours.

They have already spread across France and into Spain, and are "highly likely" to reach Britain, according to the Non-Native Species Secretariat.

The Asian hornet, which can grow to 3cm long, was introduced to France in 2004, in a shipment of pots imported from China. It has swiftly adapted to the European climate. A single colony can produce more than 15,000 hornets. Earlier this month there were sightings in Belgium.

While the secretariat does not put a figure on the impact the marauding hornets could have on crops, it states: "If the UK were to suffer a total loss of pollinators (not just honey bees) the cost is estimated to be £440m per year."

The invading hornets are "very likely to survive eradication attempts" and will be a serious problem for beekeepers. The British Beekeeping Association has alerted members to prepare for the worst. It is calling on them to make beehive entrances smaller to deter the large hornets, use wasp traps, and report any sightings immediately.

And Stuart Roberts, chairman of UK Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society, said: "We're on red alert for any sightings ... There's not a beekeeper in this country who isn't aware that this thing is just on the other side of the Channel. We are all on the lookout."

Invasive species cost the British economy £1.7bn a year, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. And the Government is now drawing up plans to deal with the Asian hornet.

Norman Rabone, 66, a beekeeper from Gillingham, Kent, said: "Hornets are terrible killers of bees. They have a killer instinct."

Asian hornets usually build large nests in trees. As well as hunting honey bees, they eat other insects and feed on fruit and flowers.

People are also at risk. In France, at least seven people were taken to hospital in 2009 after being attacked.

Additional reporting by Antony Peyton

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in