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How to spot an Asian hornet and what to do if you find one

As an expert warns about the consequences of Asian hornets becoming established in the UK, here's how to identify them in your garden and what to do

Asian predatory Hornet (Vespa velutina) on the paving of a country garden terrace in autumn, near Marbache, Lorraine, France
Experts have warned that Asian hornets are already living and breeding in the UK. (Alamy)

The lives of honey bees in the UK are under threat from Asian hornets that are already living and breeding in the country, an expert has warned.

Asian hornets prey on native honey bees and can damage the ecological role they play as well as disrupting commercial beekeeping.

There were sightings of the invasive species in 2022, with beekeepers urged to remain vigilant. But now one expert has warned that Asian hornet nests were discovered and destroyed in 2023, with another sighting on 11 March this year.

Paul Hetherington, director of communications and engagement at the Buglife charity, said that the insect has the potential to “wreak havoc” if it becomes established in the UK.

He told Sky News: "An adult Asian hornet can eat roughly 50 honeybees a day – that transpires to an entire nest of bumblebees for one hornet… They could have a catastrophic impact on bees because they've come in from abroad, there are not a lot of things that are going to predate them in this country. So it's very, very worrying."

Closeup on the Asian yellow legged Hornet wasp,  Vespa velutina, a recently introduced threat to honeybees
Asian hornets feed on honey bees and can cause ecological damage. (Getty)

What is an Asian hornet?

Asian hornets – not to be confused with Asian giant hornets – are native to Asia but were reportedly spotted in Europe for the first time in south-west France in 2004. They are thought to have come over in a consignment of pottery from China.

They are what is known as an ‘invasive species’ – an introduced species that becomes overpopulated and harms its new environment. An invasive species can cause ecological, environmental and even economical damage.

Asian hornets prey on native honey bees and can damage the ecological role they play as well as disrupting commercial beekeeping. They are smaller than the native hornet and pose no greater risk to human health than native wasps and hornets.

They are now reported to be established in Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Jersey. They were first spotted in the UK in 2016 and are generally only aggressive towards people when they perceive a threat to their nest.

How to spot an Asian hornet

Asian hornets are smaller than native hornets and measure around 25mm in length, while their queens are larger and are around 30mm in length.

Their abdomens are almost entirely black, with fine yellow stripes and a yellow or orange fourth segment, near the base. They have an orange head and a black or brown thorax.

While they look similar to native hornets, they can be distinguished from by the fact that the ends of their legs – the tips – are yellow. They are active during the day but never at night.

Asian predatory Hornet (Vespa velutina) drinking from a leaf, Jardin des plantes in front of the Museum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris, France
Asian hornets can be identified by their yellow legs and are mainly black with thin yellow stripes – and a larger one at the base of its abdomen. (Getty)

What to do if you find one

If you think you have spotted an Asian hornet, your first instinct may be to contact a pest control expert. However, it is important that the sighting is officially recorded and reported due to its invasive nature and possible consequences of it breeding.

You should notify the Great British Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) as soon as you spot an Asian Hornet. This can be done through the Asian Hornet Watch app or by filling out the online form.

You can also send details of a suspected sighting to the NNSS by emailing alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk. if possible, you should include a photo, the location of the sighting and a description of the insect.

If you have managed to trap what is confirmed to be an Asian hornet, the advice is that it can be killed either by standing on it (in shoes!) or placing it in a freezer for 24 hours. Samples should be kept as they may be needed by authorities after the sighting is reported.

However, it is important to not attempt to trap the insect by yourself, as it should be left to experts using specialist equipment. Once reported to NNSS, the government’s protocol will see professionals sent out to eradicate the insect and its nest, if found.

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