You may have heard the saying “there is nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse”. Well, for beekeepers there is, and it is the possibility of the Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina nigrithorax, setting up home in Ireland. The fact that a dying queen was found in Dublin in 2021 was a wake-up call not just to beekeepers but also the general public.

These highly aggressive hornets are predators of insects and our honeybees. The loss of any insect to the environment, should the hornet become established, could be substantial. From a beekeeping perspective, the loss of bee colonies would be detrimental to pollination and honey production.

Dismenber the bee

The Asian Hornet, as the name suggests is native to Asia and arrived in Europe in 2004. In 2016, it was found in England. There is little that separates us from it arriving into Ireland. Given the statistics, one would need to be very much on guard for its appearance.

Its impact on beekeeping stems from the fact that these hornets rear large numbers of larvae towards the autumn which require volumes of protein food. This coincides with honeybees producing the bees which will carry the colony through the winter into the following spring. Honeybee colonies are a ready source of protein for the hornet, since, worker bees returning to the hive are attacked by them. The hornets grab the bees as they slow down before entering the hive. They then dismember the bee, retaining only the thorax. Since the thorax contains a lot of muscle, it is therefore an ideal supply of protein. These hornets cause a lot of stress to the bees as they assail the hive waiting to grab their prey. Persistence by the hornets will eventually weaken the colony to the point of collapse.

Once the hornets discover lots of bees in an area they can proliferate, impacting other insects as well as bees. The environmental impact of their presence may take time to surface.

They then dismember the bee, retaining only the thorax. Since the thorax contains a lot of muscle, it is therefore an ideal supply of protein

Mated queens of the Asian Hornet hibernate within their area, possibly within 1km of the nest. We are all aware of how ordinary wasps hibernate in curtain folds or crevices so the same applies to this hornet. In March, the queen comes to life and sets up a new nest. This is known as a primary nest and is usually up and running in three weeks. The queen leaves this nest and sets up a second nest, possibly high up in trees. Tree nests may be a clue as they are a feature of this hornet. Entrance to this nest is via the side, whereas the primary nest has the entrance on the bottom.

The Asian Hornet is quite long, being 25 to 30 mm in length. The unusual colourings on the head, abdomen and legs are a key feature. The wings are not clear but stated as being smoky in colour.

As a beekeeper, I would not approach a nest of these in my bee suit as it has no protection against their long sting. They are a force not to be dealt with. Report any sightings to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine or National Parks and Wildlife.

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