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First confirmed UK record of the Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina.

Posted in: News on September 21, 2016.

Breaking News …

Breaking news this week has been the first confirmed record of the Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina, in the UK. At least one worker was captured ‘hawking’ around a Honey bee hive near Tetbury, Gloucestershire and another reported as being ‘observed’.

Vespa velutina is a species of social wasp with a natural distribution ranging from north-eastern India, throughout southern and central China and as far east as Taiwan and as south as Indonesia.

So what’s it doing in the UK?

In 2005 ‘Black Hornets’ were noticed in the Bordeaux region of France and were subsequently identified as Vespa velutina nigrithorax, one of the recognised sub-species of V. velutina. It is believed that the clearly established nest arose from at least one queen that had hitched a lift with ceramics imported from China. Since 2005, through subsequent generations, velutina has become firmly established in France and has rapidly colonised most of the southern and western departments (counties). In this respect it has been ‘knocking on the door’ of the UK for about 5 years and the eventual colonisation of the UK was arguably seen as inevitable.

Vespa velutina nigrithorax MHNT dos

Vespa velutina nigrithorax Buysson, 1905 ©Didier Descouens

Is this unusual?

We live in a global society where the accidental exchange of animals and plants from one region to another through traded goods and commodities is increasingly expected. In the UK our current climate trend for mild winters offers greater opportunity for some of these accidental imports to establish themselves.

So is it established in the UK?

So far we have evidence of a single worker and by all accounts a second individual was also ‘observed’. The behaviour of hawking around a honeybee hive suggests that these are foraging workers from a nearby nest. However, if this is the case you could argue that you would probably expect to see further workers also visiting the hive … and this does not appear to be the case so far. Therefore, until further examples are taken and identified, or a nest found this could just be a single example that had flown into a van in France and out again when the van doors were opened in the UK. I feel we need further evidence and this is being looked into, for example the specimen is currently undergoing DNA analysis to determine if it from the established population in France or from further afield, we await the outcome of this analysis. DEFRA scientists are also monitoring the situation closely and local bee keepers are also on lookout for further evidence.

Should we be concerned?

What we know of the biology and behaviour of the Asian Hornet, as demonstrated in France, is that they do prey heavily on the Honeybee, Apis melifera, and will also raid the hives themselves if access is not prevented. Hence the concerns are principally economic and the affect that this species could have on our managed Honeybee and consequently honey production, but could also notionally effect pollination of fruits and vegetables.

Human health …

In principle if this species should establish itself in the UK it should not pose any more threat to our health than any of our other species of social wasp, including our native European Hornet, Vespa crabro. However, nests are in general larger and contain more individuals, they are also more than happy to nest in urban environment, so human contact is more likely. In respect to their sting and venom, this is not known to be any more severe than that of our other 9 species of social wasp. However, it is always advisable to stay clear of the nests of social wasps and if control is warranted then the services of a professional pest controller should be employed.

Perspective …

If the Asian Hornet does establish itself in the UK, there will undoubtedly be a requirement to report and control any nests found in an attempt to prevent its spread within the UK. The demand to do so will come from DEFRA, bee keepers and land owners, including local councils.

So Pest Controllers and the public would be advised to familiarise themselves with this new hornet and particularly the differences between this and our native species of social wasps. Pest Controllers should be prepared to deal with the control of this new species of social wasp, reporting any sightings, preferably backed up with a specimen, to one of the involved organisations.


Potential sightings and specimens should be reported to the Non Native Species Secretariat (NNSS)

Identification guides are available from the NNSS and Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Scheme (BWARS)

Update 30 September 2016 ….

In the following days the National Bee Unit staff have visited over 100 sites in the immediate area of the first discovery. Asian hornets were found at several of these locations and a large nest has also been located and destroyed. The nest was found towards the top of a large conifer tree, a characteristic nesting site for this species.

The question now is whether or not the nest had yet produced queens, which would lead to new colonies being established next spring … only time will tell.


Update … 04 October 2016 …

Examples of Vespa velutina have now also been identified from a second UK location, this time “north of the Mendip Hills in Somerset”. A 3-mile surveillance zone has once again been set up and National Bee Unit ‘bee inspectors’ are working on the ground to locate and destroy any nest.


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