Asian hornets which can eat up to 50 bees a day could be established in UK, expert warns

26 March 2024, 09:57 | Updated: 26 March 2024, 10:15

Asian hornets are significant predators of bees
Asian hornets prey on a wide range of insects, including honeybees and bumblebees. Picture: Getty

By Flaminia Luck

Asian hornets, which can eat up to 50 honeybees per day are almost certainly "breeding and living in the UK", an expert has warned.

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The comments were made by Paul Hetherington, director of communications and engagement at the Buglife charity, after a confirmed sighting of a hornet earlier this month.

Speaking to Sky News' The UK Tonight with Sarah-Jane Mee, Mr Hetherington said this year's early sighting is "extremely worrying", and suggests a winter stay.

"An adult Asian hornet can eat roughly 50 honeybees a day - that transpires to an entire nest of bumblebees for one hornet," he said.

Asian predatory wasp at the entrance to a hive
Asian predatory wasp at the entrance to a hive. Picture: Getty

The insects could "wreak havoc" and suggest the hornets may have become established in the UK.

Mr Hetherington added that it is "virtually certain" Asian hornets are "breeding and living in the UK" - with 14 of their nests destroyed in the UK across August, September and October in 2023.

"It'd be quite easy for them to have a devastating impact on populations like that," Mr Hetherington said.

It is worrying development for Britain’s bee population, as hornets are significant predators of both honeybees and bumblebees.

It could have an impact on agriculture which needs pollinators, because once hornets are established it is almost impossible to get rid of them.

Mr Hetherington said the hornets appear to be establishing in the south of England where some of the UK's rarest bumblebees exist - such as the Shrill carder bee and the brown-banded carder bee.

The horneys are around 25mm in length while queens are approximately 30mm. Picture: Getty

The flying insects measure at around 25mm in length while queens are approximately 30mm long.

Their abdomens are mostly black and they are distinguished from European hornets by the fact they have yellow ends to their legs.

They usually build their nests suspended in trees or in open large spaces.

Kent Wildlife trust previously said: Asian hornets are opportunistic predators that feed on a variety of insects, including honeybees and other pollinators.

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They have been known to decimate honeybee colonies by preying on worker bees, which can have a significant impact on local ecosystems and agricultural pollination.

Whilst they are more of a threat to honeybees, they do also predate on solitary bees and other invertebrates and it’s unknown at this time what affect they could have on our already dwindling insect populations.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed a hornet was captured on 11 March in Ash, Kent.

It was confirmed to be an Asian hornet after laboratory testing.