The end of summer always brings lots of wasps to interrupt our picnics or irritate us in pub gardens. Another member of the wasp family, the Asian Hornet has been in the news lately because of concern about its potential to colonise the UK. It was accidentally introduced into southern France, probably off a container ship, in 2004, since when it has spread rapidly across Europe and towards the Channel.
The Asian Hornet is a very effective predator of insects, including honeybees and other pollinators. It can cause significant losses to bee colonies, and potentially other native species. As one hornet can consume up to 300 bees a day the species could have a devastating impact on our bees if it becomes established. As a result, much effort has gone into publicising the threat and encouraging people to report any sightings. There is even an “Asian Hornet Watch” app to help you to do this. It provides useful photos of the Asian Hornet and other species with which it could be confused. This includes the continent’s only indigenous species, the European Hornet. You can use the app to report a sighting, ideally with a photo.
The way to identify an Asian Hornet in three steps is to ask: 1) does is it look mostly black; 2) has it a wide orange stripe on 4th segment of the abdomen (body or “tail”); and 3) do its legs look as if they have been dipped in yellow paint? Taken together these factors clearly separate it from other candidates.
Our European Hornet, which has is quite common in the south of England, is a handsome insect slightly larger than the Asian Hornet and about twice the size of a wasp. It has similar markings to the wasp but is chestnut brown and yellow rather than black and yellow. It is not nearly as aggressive as the wasp and will only sting humans if threatened. Indeed, males do not even have a sting. Like other wasps they make paper nests of chewed up wood or bark, often in hollow trees.
We may see them foraging in good weather throughout the autumn before the newly mated queens go into hibernation ready to start a new nest in spring. The rest of the colony, including the old queen, dies by winter. You may see the queens stocking up on nectar from flowers prior to hibernation.
Since 2016, nationally there have been 52 confirmed sightings of Asian Hornets and 45 nests destroyed. Most sightings have been in Kent and although there have been a few in Dorset and Hampshire, there have been no sightings in Wiltshire yet.
It is certainly important to prevent the spread of the Asian Hornet, but we shouldn’t allow our concern to lead us to unnecessarily persecute our native, and largely harmless hornet species.
Photo: Avocets (Izzy Fry)
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