The Asian hornet – Vespa velutina – is not native to the UK and is NOTIFIABLE (*). It was accidentally introduced to the south of France in 2004 and has quickly worked its way up towards The Channel. The first Asian hornet nest in the UK was found and destroyed in 2016, since when there have been isolated incidents.
The first Asian hornet nests in Hampshire were found in September 2018 along with nests in other parts of the UK. Other Asian hornet nests are likely, and vigilance is absolutely essential. Once established, this species will be very hard to eradicate. It is an extremely aggressive predator and a colony of Asian hornets will decimate a colony of honeybees in a few hours. A single queen will establish a colony early in spring and will raise thousands of worker hornets and hundreds of young queens, which will come through winter and start their own colonies.
(*) ‘Notifiable’ means that, by law, you must report any sighting to the appropriate authority. In this instance, it is the Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) by email
at email@example.com or by using the Android or iPhone app which can be downloaded from the National Bee Unit web page or by using their online sighting form
The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina)
The Asian hornet worker is up to 25mm long (slightly shorter than the European hornet), has dark legs with yellow tips, a dark thorax and a dark abdomen that has an orange/yellow band at the end. Its head is dark from above, orange from front. It is completely silent in flight. It is never active at night.
European hornet (Vespa crabro)
The European hornet is native to the UK and is not a threat. The worker is up to 30mm long with brown legs. It has a black thorax with extensive brown markings, and a yellow abdomen with brown markings on the upper side, not banded. Its head is yellow from above an from the side. it buzzes loudly in flight. The European hornet sometimes flies after dark.
If you are a beekeeper, try to allow an extra 10 to 15 minutes when you visit your bees. Just stand or sit and watch the hive entrances because the Asian hornets’ hawking behaviour is instantly recognisable.
A useful identification chart can be found at the National Bee Unit website, from which these images were taken.