Number of giant Asian hornets spotted on their way to Britain could hit record highs this year

A giant Asian hornet can eat up to 50 bees a day and their impact on honey production could be devastating.
A giant Asian hornet can eat up to 50 bees a day and their impact on honey production could be devastating.

Sightings of giant Asian hornets could hit record levels in the UK this year.

The number of queens spotted on the Channel Island of Jersey - a key battleground to stop the mass invasion to the British mainland - is already surpassing the highest total observed in a single year.

The hornets, which have longer stingers than honeybee’s, are sometimes known as killer hornets because getting stung can be far more painful and can cause anaphylaxis which in rare cases becomes fatal.

They can also eat up to 50 honey bees a day, posing a great risk to the UK’s native population, which are currently under threat already and are vital for plant pollination.

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To date in 2021, a total of 63 queens have been discovered on Jersey– 38 by members of the public and 25 caught in traps spread around the island.

The previous highest recorded number came in 2019 when 69 were found - three years after the insects were first spotted on the island.

The species began to spread through Europe in 2004 after arriving in the south of France inside a freight ship.

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Last year, hornets were found in southern England, prompting calls for a "people's army" to help fight off an impending invasion of the insects onto mainland Britain.

Alastair Christie, Jersey’s Asian hornet coordinator, described the latest figures in Jersey as "slightly alarming" but urged people not to panic.

He said: ‘We are on track to surpass 2019 numbers, but trapping in 2019 was minimal and we are also a lot better at it now.

"So with the increase in trapping and the help from the public it stands to reason that we would find more. I am hoping that we have caught a greater proportion of the queens this year and that the number of nests won’t be as high."

Six nests have also been spotted so far this year, which is down from the same period in 2019.

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Christie added: "I am optimistic that we are doing a good job of catching the queens."

He said the first worker hornets would be emerging in the next few weeks.

A local team of volunteers will soon begin tracking the insects, which Christie said would help form a "clearer picture" of how the rest of the year could play out.

Islanders are being encouraged to check their sheds, garages and other outdoor areas for nests, and to report any sightings of an Asian hornet by emailing asianhornet@gov.je, attaching a photo if possible.

The species can be identified by their darker colour, a yellow-orange band across their lower end, a bright pale-yellow belt at the waist and the yellow lower half of their legs.

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