Beekeepers on alert for deadly hornets


Devon’s beekeepers are being asked to watch
out for sightings of the deadly Asian Hornet.

The hornet, or vespa veluntina, is an invasive
species which preys on honeybees and can
decimate colonies. It first arrived in the UK
from France in 2004, possibly in a consignment
of pottery from China, and poses a constant
threat to hives in this country.
Martin Hann, a former inspector with the
National Bee Unit who now works in the Bee
Department at Buckfast Abbey, says there
have been a number of incursions of Asian
Hornets over the past four years: “The South
West region has seen the greatest influx of
hornets, possibly as a result of high levels of
traffic, because queen hornets can hitch a lift on
vehicles such as camper vans and lorries, to and
from the continent. Each incursion has been
successfully dealt with and there have been no
new sightings in Devon so far this year, but it’s
important to remain vigilant.”

Martin says the hornets are deadly for two reasons
– their eating habits and the size of their nests:
“Asian Hornets eat adult honey bees and
although they do eat other insects, research
shows that up to 66% of their diet is bees.
“Secondly, Asian Hornets build very large
nests which contain several hundred or even a
thousand or so individuals. When you couple
this with fact that beekeepers keep large boxes
of bees (hives) with several on one site, then
to a group of marauding Asian Hornets, a
beekeeper’s apiary begins to resemble a 24-
hour fast food establishment, and they will
plunder it mercilessly until they have wiped out
the colony down to the last bee.”
Martin says the insects have a distinctive
appearance: “Asian hornets are slightly
smaller than their European cousin and are


predominantly black or very dark brown except
for an orange coloured face and a broad orange
band on the abdomen close to the tail. The top
half of its legs are dark brown, and the bottom
halves are yellow, hence its other name, the
yellow-legged hornet.
‘Another way to differentiate between the two
is the time of day that they are seen. Asian
hornets only fly in full daylight while the
European variety will fly at dusk.”
Many beekeepers feel that it is right to put out
traps to catch Asian Hornets. However, Martin
says this is a contentious issue because the
traps can indiscriminately catch other beneficial
pollinating insects.

“There is a case for using
traps once the hornets are known to be in the
area, but until then they may do more harm than
good. I am proud to say that I worked for the
National Bee Unit as a seasonal bee inspector
for six years. We had the advantage of seeing
what had happened in France and knew that we
had to be ready, not so much if, but when, the
first hornets arrived.”

Beekeepers were also quick to see the threat.
“Some of them travelled to the Channel Islands
to get first-hand experience and then mobilised
themselves into Asian Hornet Action Teams
(AHAT’s for short). These are teams of
beekeepers spread across the country who are
able respond to potential sightings, help with
positive identification and begin to actively
note where the hornets are foraging.”
Martin says the National Bee Unit has become
adept at dealing with Asian Hornet sightings,
but it can only act if sightings are reported
– and extreme caution is needed.
“The Asian Hornet is a stinging insect but
while they are foraging, they are normally
no more of a nuisance than a wasp. It is known
however, that the hornets are very defensive
of their nest. Hornets have 3mm long stingers
which they can use multiple times to inject a
very potent venom.

‘Not only that, the venom
releases a chemical to encourage other hornets
to come and sting at the same site. They can
cause not only very painful swelling, worse
than that of a bee or a wasp, but also potentially
life-threatening anaphylactic shock if you
are allergic to the toxin. If you were unlucky
enough to be stung it would be wise to seek
medical help, just in case.

So, the message is clear, if you think you
have seen an Asian Hornet then please report
it through the appropriate channels but do
not go searching for the nest, leave that to the
If you suspect you have spotted an Asian
Hornet, you can report it to the National Bee
Unit direct, or by visiting the BBKA website to
find details of your local Asian Hornet Action
Team. An Asian Hornet app is also available