With many press reports, awareness of the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) in the UK is increasing. However, correct identification is key as the great majority of the reports received turn out not to be this exotic pest.

Last year we received over 4500 reports and at the time of writing in July 2018, we’ve received just under 3000 alerts – a combination of reports through the Asian Hornet Watch App and direct calls to the NBU office. Only one sighting, dubbed the cauliflower hornet, has, up to now, proven positive this year. It was reported in Bury, Lancashire, in April, and traced back to Boston in Lincolnshire..

The most commonly mistaken insect is the European hornet (Vespa crabro) which to the public is large and terrifying and therefore must surely be an exotic pest. Other frequently confused insects are wasps and, perhaps more forgivingly, wood wasps. The identifying features of the Asian hornet along with similar species are outlined on the NNSS alert sheet which also contains details of how to report Asian hornet sightings. We would recommend that all beekeepers have a small supply of these which can be used to aid themselves and the public with correct identification of mystery insects.

Beekeepers and associations can also increase awareness of Asian hornets in their locality by using the Asian hornet poster which is also available from the NBU or can be downloaded from our website, BeeBase.

What Can I Do as a Beekeeper?

The most straightforward task for a beekeeper is to spend time in the apiary looking for Asian hornets. In September, the most obvious places to look for them will be outside the entrance of the hives as they ‘hawk’ for returning foragers, and on any flowering forage which may be secreting nectar, such as ivy, for example.

If you are lucky enough to have top fruit trees in your garden (apples, pears, etc), hornets may be foraging on fallen and rotting fruit.

Don’t forget to check any traps you have hanging around the apiary and report or send in any suspicious catches (details below). There are, of course, many more things you can do, but those above are some of the easier and more straightforward ones.

What can Associations Do?

Some associations have set up Asian Hornet Action Teams (AHATS) responsible for following up local reports of Asian hornets and ensuring correct identification. While these are a great idea, we would like to remind you that credible reports should still be sent immediately to the Non-Native Species Directorate, email: [email protected].

Under no circumstances should beekeepers or AHATs choose not to report suspicious sightings or take it upon themselves to follow up positive sightings.

Monitoring traps can be used to detect the Asian hornet’s presence in your locality. The How to make an Asian hornet monitoring trap fact sheet on BeeBase and the YouTube video How to make an Asian hornet monitoring trap give details. Associations can increase membership engagement by hosting trap-making workshops.

If you are going to use monitoring traps, we recommend that they are visited daily so that non-target insects can be released unharmed. In spring these traps may catch recently emerged Asian hornet queens, particularly when used with a sweet bait and set up in a wide range of locations, not just apiaries.

To help monitor and map trap locations in the UK, we have recently updated the apiary records on BeeBase. Please record if you are using Asian hornet traps in your apiary or apiaries. A recent news item on the front page of BeeBase explains how to do so. We would appreciate it if associations could encourage their members to use this facility.

At the association level, training on the Asian hornet, as well as other pests and diseases, is available from the NBU’s bee inspectors. Your seasonal bee inspector (SBI) can give talks, apiary safaris and apiary demonstrations. Your regional bee inspector (RBI) can present at bee health days in summer or talks in winter.

Getting a Sample

Advice on how to catch a sample and/or take a photograph is also available from the So you think you’ve seen an Asian hornet? page on the BeeBase website.

When trying to take a sample, remember that Asian hornets sometimes hide under beehives so that they can ambush bees as they return to the hive or land on adjacent vegetation. Placing an apron of material around the legs of stands may force them into the open making them easier to observe and catch.

A cheap seaside fishing net is perfect for swiping hornets in mid-air. If an apiary is large, help from a fellow beekeeper will prove invaluable as hornets can move rapidly from hive to hive.

Reporting Sightings

Sightings of Asian hornets should be reported urgently to us. You can report a sighting using a smartphone or tablet by downloading the Asian Hornet Watch app (for Android and iOS). The app uses GPS, enabling the user to submit the exact location of their finding. Any confirmed sightings can then be followed up quickly and efficiently.

Alternatively, you can submit your sighting by emailing: [email protected]  When doing so, please include as much information as possible, including the location of the sighting, name, contact number or address and, if possible, an image.

All reports are reviewed by entomologists at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and credible records passed on to the NBU and the GB NNSS for further investigation. 

Further Information

BeeBase: www.nationalbeeunit.com

NBU contingency plans

NBU Asian hornet page

So you think you’ve seen an Asian hornet? page

NNSS Asian hornet pages with Asian hornet watch app

Written by Nigel Semmance & Jason Learner, National Bee Unit | Appears in the September 2018 Edition of Bee Craft Magazine

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