Thursday, 22 September 2016

Aliens land in Tetbury, and it's bad news for bees!

It sounds like the plot of a Simon Pegg movie; a sleepy Cotswold town suddenly finds itself facing an invasion of deadly aliens. They're winged, aggressive, breed rapidly and can be hard to tell apart from the natives, and they've got a thing for bees. It's not little green men or pod people though, it's Vespa veluntina, the asian hornet.

While posing no major threat to the human inhabitants of the UK, these guys are bad news for bees. They prey at hive entrances; snatching, gruesomely beheading and devouring bees or flying off with them and chopping them up to feed to their young. Nesting asian hornet queens can raise a 6,000 strong colony in 3 months, with each worker munching down 50 bees per day. Needless to say their establishment in the UK could be really bad news for our already struggling honeybees.

What Tetbury's invaders were lacking, however, was the element of surprise. They were first identified in France in 2004, and from there have spread rapidly across Europe. The UK's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has therefore been waiting for them, with detailed protocols in place for if and when they showed up. As soon as the alert was sounded DEFRA launched into action, complete with surveillance zones, infrared cameras and nest disposal experts. It's like something out of Torchwood, and as with any well-written alien invasion story, the key is killing the queen.

If this were a horror film, it would be fitting for Joe Public, rather than government officials, to find the nest, kill the queen and save the day. However,  hornet slaying is probably best left to the experts. Not only could disturbing a nest be very dangerous, but there's also a risk of killing the wrong guy. We already have a native hornet in the UK; the European hornet, and we wouldn't want to risk a mix up. However, monitoring is very much encouraged. You can report any sightings of a suspected alien invasion using this web form, or by emailing . There are ID sheets here to help you with your quest. Happy hornet hunting!

Key Asian Hornet ID features: from BeeBase ID sheet

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