What’s two inches long with a three inch wingspan, can decapitate 40 honeybees in a minute, has a quarter-inch stinger that can kill a human, is responsible for at least six deaths in France and could be crossing the Channel and heading to Great Britain? That sounds like the plot of a horror movie but it’s actually a real warning given to British citizens and beekeepers that giant Asian killer hornets could be on the islands soon. If that still doesn’t scare you, maybe its nickname will … yak killer!
The Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is the world’s largest hornet and is native to the low mountains and forests of Eastern Asia. They smuggled themselves into France in 2004 in some Chinese pottery and have quickly spread across the country. The giant hornets have since invaded Spain in 2010 and Belgium in 2011. Their sting is painful and the venom can cause allergic reactions and even death, as six people in France fatally found out. But their real danger is to honeybees, which are still under severe stress from colony collapse disorder.
The giant hornets kill the bees by tearing off their heads and wings and feeding the rest to their young. A nest of 500 hornets can kill a hive of 30,000 bees in just a few hours. Living up to their reputation, the killer hornets are known to defend their hive by sending out just one worker hornet to warn invaders of what might happen if they get any closer.
While they’re not in Great Britain yet, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs and its National Bee Unit are holding a seminar in May to prepare beekeepers for the inevitable. They will be advised to stay away from the hornets’ nests and instead call in special forces from the Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency to kill them with chemicals and pesticides.
The use of chemicals and pesticides isn’t exactly comforting to British beekeepers since they’re also the most likely causes of colony collapse disorder. Other ways they’re dealt with in Asia include beating the hornets to death with sticks or setting the hives on fire.
So if you walk out of the pub to the sound of loud pounding and the smell of smoke and honey, you’ll know that the Asian killer hornets have arrived in Great Britain.