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