honey bee threats

Asian hornet found in the UK

This is a bad piece of news, although not entirely unexpected. British beekeepers have been bracing themselves for years for an invasion by the Asian hornet (Vespula velutina), especially since the introduction of the hornet into France in 2004.

A serious threat to honey bees

The Asian hornet is a nasty piece of work whose favorite food is the honey bee. According to an article in Bee Craft Magazine, in its home territory, the hornet can destroy up to 30% of an Apis cerana (Asian honey bee) colony in just a couple of hours.

The Asian honey bee fends off the attack by heat-balling the hornet to a temperature of 45 degrees C (113 F), which effectively kills the invader. But the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, is not so adept at this maneuver, meaning the colony is more susceptible. According to Wikipedia, in areas where the Asian and Western honey bee both live, the Asian hornet prefers to hunt the western honey bee.

Although the hornets are very territorial about their hunting grounds, as soon as a hornet snags a bee it leaves and a new hornet takes its place. This switch off takes a matter of just seconds, so an afternoon of bee hunting can wipe out thousands of bees.

Bee Craft also reports that:

“Repeated and sometimes severe attacks from V. velutina on French honey bee colonies have been reported, in particular in the summer and autumn…Asian hornets also have indirect effects on honey bee health. Chronic hornet activity around a colony causes honey bees to mount a constant defence of the hive entrance, thus greatly limiting time spent foraging. Pollen reserves become depleted, leading to mortality in developing bee larvae, weakening of the colony and potential colony loss. Even low levels of hornet numbers (fewer than 5 hornets/hive) can result in significant disruption.”

A quarantine in place

A press release from Gov.UK details the actions being taken to quarantine the invasion area around Gloucestershire. Anticipating this for years, the National Bee Unit has been developing an action plan and Bee Craft Magazine has been educating beekeepers since 2011. It is not too soon for the rest of the world to take similar action. With global trade, the hornet could arrive in imported goods at any time, especially in wooden products or plants.

If a foundress queen makes her way into new territory, she can in one season spawn a huge colony that can produce hundreds or even thousands of mated queens by fall. Take a look at the Bee Craft article and learn to recognize this serious threat.

Honey Bee Suite

Asian hornet.

Asian hornet in Europe. Pixabay photo.


  • I have expressed concern that the place this was found (Tetbury, in Gloucestershire) is quite a long way from the South Coast, where it might have flown across the Channel from France, and also quite a long way from any major port, so perhaps there is already a colony somewhere in England. But others pointed out that it could have just been brought in on a plant pot or in a caravan or something like that.

    I live in Manchester, in Northern England, and was taking some comfort from information along the lines of “it can’t spread too far North because of the cold”. But then towards the end of this video ( https://youtu.be/NYqfpGqtguk ) the expert said that it is perfectly well adapted to conditions in the UK and will spread up into Scotland.

  • One thing is certain, humans have successfully turned ecosystems so far on their ear as to render them dysfunctional. The imported insects from the USA create the same problems over there. Governments fail to act on these issues because of economic concerns. They fail to realize two things: that there is no such thing as eradication of an invasive species, only control which brings an annual price tag in the billions, and all healthy economic systems ride on the back of healthy ecosystems. This wasp is yet another stressor on the honey bee whose collapse will be felt around this planet. It’s time for us to have a serious sit down with ourselves before it is too late.

  • Hey Rusty,

    Great article as usual!!! Picture this scenario:

    The honey bee is facing an uphill battle; nosema, varroa, hive beetle, wax moth, GMO’s, pesticides negligence etc. The US, in it’s efforts to keep the adulterated garbage that comes from China out, imposed the 300% tariff, often seizing and dumping when caught, any that makes it into the country. Now what if, in regular containers, they would purposely place an Asian hornet queen, knowing it’s destination was here, The US, in an attempt to further harm our production where we will be forced to buy their product? Far fetched???? Hmmmm? Varroa??? Hive beetle??? Something to think about, no?

    • Tonybees,

      Yes. As I was writing the post I was thinking about how easy it would be to “accidentally” import a few queens. It wouldn’t take long before they would spread coast to coast.

  • Hi,

    I’m afraid the Asian hornet has already found a way here into Portugal since 2011, just one year after getting into Spain. From 1 nest reported in 2011 the population grew to 5 known nests in 2012, to over 1000 nests known in 2015. It has spread its range across the Northern part of Portugal, more humid and forested. Where it will stop is a mystery. It currently is at around 100 kms from me and my bees. My hope is that the very hot dry Summers can be a natural limiting factor. We hit the 40’s a few times this Summer.

    The UK seems to have very good conditions for them and I hope they have an aggressive eradication plan for them or they will spread far and wide.

    Varroa could do some good and cross infect them!

    It’s a nightmare, I can’t imagine when they make it to over here…


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