What is an Asian Hornet?
Ten people have needed urgent medical treatment so far this summer after being stung by “killer” Asian hornets as swat squads use Henry Hoovers to try to stop an invasion of the British mainland. Defra has warned more of the insects have turned up in Kent, fuelling fears they are spreading.
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Jersey has recorded 476 queens this year, a figure six times that for the whole of last year with the main breeding season having only recently begun.
Asian hornets have resulted in the deaths of at least five people in France, with more victims in other countries in Europe. Those stung in Jersey survived.
The hornets’ venom can cause people to go into anaphylactic shock with some victims dying within minutes of an attack unless they receive urgent medical treatment.
Experts are monitoring the south of England after Asian hornets were spotted in Kent in the sixth confirmed sighting on the UK mainland since April when an Asian hornet was captured near Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
John de Carteret, head of the Jersey Asian Hornet Group, said the number of nest-making Asian hornet queens found on the island since the start of spring now stands at 476 and they are breeding in increasing numbers.
He said on Wednesday: “After a record day for Asian Hornet primary and/or secondary nests yesterday their number stays at 77.
“The number of people confirmed as stung remains at ten… There’s a long way to go here, especially whilst they are effectively uncontrolled in France.”
Earlier this year Mr de Carteret took part in an Asian hornet hunt when a huge nest was found in toilets at the former Tamba Park activity centre in St Lawrence, Jersey.
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Meanwhile, swat squad volunteers on Guernsey have been using Henry Hoovers in a bid to take the sting out of the invasion. They use the familiar household appliances to suck nests from hard-to-reach trees and clifftops.
The National Bee Unit has warned that apart from the risk to people, Asian hornets can destroy a hive of 30,000 honey bees within hours. A single nestful of Asian hornets is capable of consuming about 11kg (24lb) of pollinating insects in a season.
Just one Asian hornet can wreak terrible damage, hunting down and eating up to 50 honey bees daily. Just their presence can spook terrified bees from flying out of their hives, costing beekeepers a fortune in lost honey.
On the British mainland, teams from Devon’s bee-keeping associations have distributed posters in places such as caravan parks, marinas and parish notice boards, asking people to check boats and vehicles on their return from the continent.
Defra’s Chief Plant and Bee Health Officer Nicola Spence said: “By ensuring we are alerted to possible sightings as early as possible, we can take swift and effective action to stamp out the threat posed by Asian hornets.
“That’s why we are working at speed to locate and investigate any nests in the area following the confirmed sightings in Kent. While the Asian hornet poses no greater risk to human health than other wasps or hornets, they can cause damage to honey bee colonies and other beneficial insects.
“Please continue to look out for any Asian hornets and if you think you’ve spotted one, report your sighting through the Asian hornet app or online. Asian hornet nests will be smaller at this time in the year but we are still asking people to be vigilant.”
Asian hornet nests are built by a queen in sheds or outbuildings, but they are also often found inside bird boxes. The queens stay inside these nests for about six weeks, where they often raise roughly 100 worker hornets.
Once the nest is large enough, the hornets will leave it and spread to other areas where larger secondary nests can be built.
People have been advised to take care not to approach or disturb a nest, but to photograph and follow any sole Asian hornets to help experts tracking flight paths, leading them to nests which can be wiped out.
Defra says there is a high possibility of introduction through, for example, soil associated with imported plants, cut flowers, fruit, garden items such as furniture and plant pots, freight containers and untreated timber.
In the New Forest in September 2018, a tiny electrical device was used to track down a nest in Brockenhurst, which was destroyed.
Nests are usually in tall trees, but they can be found in hedges, brambles, garden shrubs, or even in earth banks, so they can easily be disturbed inadvertently, causing large numbers of hornets to emerge at once. However, a lone hornet should not pose much of a threat.
Asian hornets reached Europe after they were inadvertently brought into France in a shipment of pottery from China in 2004. They are now widespread in Spain and Portugal.
A group of cyclists in France was stung up to 50 times each after disturbing an Asian hornet nest as they pedalled alongside the Loire River. French media reported the nest was suspended about two metres above the cyclists on a branch of a dead tree when the colony launched its attack.
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