Asian Hornet Conference – by Colette O’Connell

Asian Hornet Conference – by Colette O’Connell

Colette O'Connell

Colette O’Connell

ASIAN HORNET – BBKA – Webinar Conference – Saturday, 6th March, 2021

Vespa Velutina, Asian Hornet, or the Yellow Legged Hornet.

Saturday, 6th March dawned with a fresh spring feel to the day, and there awaiting me was a message with a link for this day long conference, courtesy of a good friend.  Unable to attend, and aware of my interest and not wanting to waste his slot, I had the good fortune to benefit,

It was a lovely interesting and knowledgeable day, packed with insight and information, that was over all too quickly.

  1. First off the mark was Professor Stephen Martin, from the University of Salford, specialising in Hornet ecology, Pests and diseases of honey bees, in particular varroa, Chemical ecology.  Having spent seven years in Japan, Professor Martin is part of the UK National Bee Unit and Chair of Social Entomology in Salford. Professor Martin outlined the biology of the Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina, or the Yellow legged hornet, his preferred term.  He uses this term, as the yellow legs are a defining unique feature which distinguishes it from other hornets.  

In Vietnam, it was observed that Apis cerana uses small hive entrances as a defense against the Asian hornet.  When the hornet chews the entrances to make them larger for easier access, the Asian honey bee reacts by applying animal dung around the entrances, with the result that the Asian hornet no longer chews to widen the entrances.  

Furthermore, as an apex predator, the hornet multi-mates, so ensuring a wide range of genetic material in its make up.  It can suffer high loads of diploid drones, 50 – 60% has been shown.  It also recombines, that is it can shuffle its genes, which is why it is a successful pest species.  

  1. Andrew Durham followed with details of the French Experience and Protecting Bees. Six years of research on what happened in France when beekeepers were caught on the hop with the arrival of Vespa velutina, to France.   
  1. Nigel Semmence of the National Bee Unit in the UK, contingency and science officer, Animal and Plant Health Agency, outlined the hornets’ arrival in France in 2004 and its  spread into adjacent countries, at the rate of 80 km / year. The NBU, UK has 60 inspectors on the ground, and it’s Beebase website with Asian Hornet information, is focusing on education and awareness promotion. Not ALL big insects are Asian Hornets.  
  2. Dr. Sandra Rojas, of Atlantic Positive followed, advocating the spending of money for the “first trace… the only possibility of eradication….” of the hornet.  If this is not successfully done, more money will have to be spent on containment, which will cost more in the long term. The Balearic island’s successful eradication of the hornet after its arrival ensured the island’s continuing freedom from this pest.  Sandra also looked at various traps and discussed the HARP trap, which unfortunately is priced too high for use by ordinary beekeepers. (The Atlantic Positive has Ireland included as a partner).
  1. Dr. Peter Kennedy, University of Exeter, Environment and Sustainability Institute, shared his experiences of nest tracking and using radio telemetry to successfully locate nests of Asian Hornets. Interesting information about the “murder hornets” and their establishment in Washington State followed, as an analogy for similar incursions by the yellow legged hornets.


Some facts highlighted by the conference include the potential devastation by Vesta velutina on other pollinators as well as honey bees; the economic impact of the loss of such pollinators; hearing of the impact of the Asian hornet on the grape crop used for wine production in France; and its defensive attack of “spitting” or spraying venom. ( A BBC news report from Jersey, 4th September, 2017, outlined how a fire service drone was attacked by Asian hornets as it investigated and scouted a nest.)

It is an apex predator which can recombine its genes and is not affected by climate; it is a formidable foe.

This is a predator that we need to try to ensure does not come to our shores, and we need to be prepared for if and when it does.  As John de Carteret from Jersey pointed out to me recently, with Brexit and the opening up of more Channel crossings between Ireland and France, it is only a matter of when, and not if, and that appears to be ever closer!!