Swarms of Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) have killed at least two people in the autonomous community of Galicia, northern Spain, this year. On Sunday, May 24, a swarm of angry hornets attacked and killed a 73-year-old man spending the day in the countryside with his wife. And on May 10, a 54-year-old man reportedly died after being stung in the eyebrow while dealing with a nest near his beehive.
Asian hornets are not native to Spain or the UK and pose a threat to local honeybee populations.
And though the invasive species rarely attack humans, the hornets can become aggressive if their nests are disturbed.
People allergic to hornet stings are particularly at risk from anaphylactic shock.
Professor Helen Roy of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology told Mirror Online: “The Asian Hornet is not generally aggressive, although the stings can be painful and a very small number of people might be allergic to the sting.”
According to the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA), Asian hornets can at times be found in the south of England.
Asian hornets can build their nests on the sides of buildings, in garages, sheds and wood stores.
What is an Asian Hornet?
Asian hornets are an invasive species that is smaller than Britain’s native hornet.
Asian hornets are known to kill up to 50 bees a day and other pollinating insects, making them a potential threat to bee colonies and ecosystems.
The insects measure up to 25mm in length and should not be confused with the larger Asian giant hornet – also known as the Murder hornet.
Asian hornets have characteristic yellow legs, orange face and a black body except for yellow bands on its abdominal segment.
The insects are active during the day, unlike the European hornet, and settle down at dusk.
According to the BBKA, Asian hornets can cross the English Channel from France.
The species was accidentally introduced to France from China in 2004 and has been crossing borders in small numbers since.
The insects favour the spring and summer and are active between April and November.
Peak activity typically occurs between August and September.
The BBKA said: “It is expected that the places it is most likely to be found in numbers are in southern parts of England (it may be able to cross the channel from France) or in goods among which it could be accidentally imported (such as soil with imported pot plants, cut flowers, fruit and timber).”
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The Asian hornet has already been sighted on the Channel Islands, with a queen hornet captured in April.
Guernsey Islanders have been asked to keep their eyes peeled for any escaped hornets.
Francis Russell of Asian Hornet Strategy said: “Throughout this lockdown period when more of us are spending time in our gardens and out enjoying the island’s wildlife it is really important to remain vigilant for Asian hornets and report any potential sightings swiftly so that we can check these out.
“I would also ask people to check their outbuildings, sheds, verandas and porches to look for any of these early queen’s nests.
A report published in April this year suggested the insects could cost the economy millions of pounds.
However, there have been no recent sightings in the UK just yet.
An Asian hornet nest was found and destroyed near Christchurch, Dorset, in October 2019.
Another nest was also sighted and destroyed in Tamworth, Staffordshire, in September 2019.
A single hornet was also seen in New Milton, Hampshire, in 2019.
Since 2016, the Government has confirmed only 17 sightings of the Asian hornet in England and nine nests have been destroyed.
How to report an Asian hornet sighting:
You can use the Asian Hornet Watch app on your iOS and Android phone to take a photo and tag a GPS location if you believe you have found the insect.
You can also use an online form on the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology website.
Ian Danby, head of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) said: “I hope you’ll never see this hornet, but if you do, please do your bit for wildlife and report it.
“However, under no circumstances attempt to destroy a nest on your own.
“Asian hornets can be extremely dangerous when angered.”