Vespa velutina nigrithorax
First observed in 2005 the Asian Hornet is thought to have arrived in France from China in 2004, in a container of pottery passing through the port of Bordeaux. Since that date its spread throughout the neighboring regions has been rapid and often, in the initial stages, follows rivers and other watercourses. In fact it will never be found far from a source of water even if that is only a small pond. As of 2019 they can be found in most of France including the north as well as Belgium, Spain and Portugal, the expansion is relentless.
Slightly smaller than the European Hornet, with queens up to 30mm, and workers up to 25mm, they are easily recognised by their appearance and difficult to confuse with any other species. The thorax is a velvety black / dark brown with brown abdominal segments. Each abdominal segment has a narrow posterior yellow border, except for the fourth segment, which is orange. The legs are brown with yellow ends and the head is black with an orange yellow face.
The nest is built using “paper mâché” made from chewed tree and plant material. It is composed of several wafers of cells surrounded by a double skinned envelope of broad reinforced paper scales, striated with beige and brown. Unlike the European Hornet where the entrance is on or near the bottom, the entrances are on the sides, (see photo). Another difference is that the European hornet makes its nest in cavities, whereas the Asian Hornet makes a suspended nest, usually in a tree but sometimes in a large open roof space. This is easy to see; it is spherical or oval and can be as much as 1 metre in height, 80cm in diameter and generally between 4 and 15 metres from the ground. It is rare for it to use a hollow in a tree or cavity although it can happen, (example here) Unfortunately the nest is sometimes hidden by the trees foliage and as its comings and goings are more discrete than the European hornet and as such their presence isn’t always noticed until the leaves begin to fall in early autumn. Increasingly nests are being found close to ground level in bushes and hedges.
Queen Asian Hornets with initial starter nests. Many of these fail to grow and develop into full colonies.
Although the European Hornet will attack and kill the odd honey bee in relatively small numbers as a food source for their larvae it does not present a problem, however the situation is potentially worse with the Asian Hornet and could possibly lead to the destruction of the entire colony. The Asian Hornets will station themselves hovering at about 30cm from the entrance to the honey bee colony where they pounce on returning bees, often those that are carrying pollen, fall to the ground with them or fly a short distance to land on something and cut off the head with their mandibles. Here they remove the wings and legs before making a little “meat ball” that they transport back to their nest to feed their own larvae. Having found a colony, often a bee hive, they will sometimes arrive in numbers to take an easy food source one after another. Theoretically the consequences for the bee colony could be severe if the flow of pollen into the hive is severely disrupted. Over time it could result in the death of some or all of the larvae and the queen could either stop or reduce her egg production possibly leading to the decline of the colony. Aging bees will die with a reduced number of replacements to take their place as the colony prepares for winter. This could prevent sufficient winter bees being produced leaving the colony with a much reduced hope of over wintering and they may also be vulnerable to robbing. However there is increasing evidence that they are taking other insects as a source of protein to feed their larvae and even behaving more like the European Hornets and native wasps in taking meat including carrion. Of course this isn't great if it puts increasing pressure on an insect population that is already in sever decline resulting from agricultural methods.
Scale of risks for honey bees:
It's increasingly unclear just what the scale of threat is to Honey bees and it's possibly been overstated. There is no question about the fact that they do prey on bees at the colony entrance but it's likely that there would need to be a very large Asian Hornet colony in very close proximity to a bee colony to cause serious harm especially if there were a number of bee colonies together spreading the load. It could be that the risk is greater in the south of France with a longer season for the Hornet colony to get started and grow in size.
Photo above is an Asian Hornets nest in my apiary 2014, not visible until the leaves fell in November. READ MORE
Risk to humans from this species is minimal except when and if they consider their nest to be under threat, otherwise they are more timid than the European Hornet and their sting is no worse than that from an ordinary wasp.
They are only out during daylight hours unlike the European Hornet that will also fly at night. As with all the social wasps (common Wasps, Hornets), the colonies of the Asian Hornet live only one year and it is only fertilised queens survive the winter in hibernation.
Small nests with only a queen at the beginning of the season, (as in the photos at the top), can be destroyed using a powerful aerosol wasp spray with caution.
Larger nests should be destroyed as a matter of urgency by a competent person that is equipped for the job. As the destruction of their nests and the laws surrounding it is a constantly changing situation you should check with your Mairie but the current situation is that there is a legal obligation on the property owner to have nests destroyed.
In early spring try to kill as many Queens as possible. They will be easily lured to the scent of honey and I find swatting them with a plastic tennis racket is the easiest method.
Please don't use traps as they will also attract and kill our native species of Hornet and Social Wasps which are already suffering enough and in decline.