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Battle to control Asian hornet population explosion continues

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JERSEY’S honey bees are under increasing threat as its greatest predator – the aggressive Asian hornet – continues its rapid spread across the Island.

John de Carteret with an Asian hornet nest and queen at a property in St Saviour

Last year 15 colonies of the predatory insects, which were first sighted in the Island in August 2016, were discovered and destroyed between July and October.

Since this April a taskforce of beekeepers working with the Environment Department has dealt with ten nests already.

And as summer is when the species proliferates as the queen, the dominant hornet that establishes colonies, goes into her peak breeding period, they are urging Islanders to report any sightings as they try to control a population explosion.

John de Carteret, vice-president of the Jersey Beekeepers Association, is heading the task force, working with fellow beekeeper and JEP nature columnist Bob Tompkins.

‘The Asian hornet appears to be pretty well established around the Island this year,’ he said. ‘If each queen follows the life cycle of the Asian hornet it can conservatively produce at least 200 new colonies or nests this year.

‘There is evidence gathered from monitoring two nests discovered in 2012 in Galicia in Spain that shows by four years later the population [in that region] had grown to 10,647 nests.’

In 2017 discoveries were confined to the east of Jersey. This year there have been confirmed queen and hornet sightings and nests found in St Mary, St Lawrence, Trinity, St Ouen, St Saviour and St Brelade, as far west as Corbière. A single nest can contain 6,000 hornets and each can devour up to 50 honey bees in a day.

As the nests found this year were all located at private homes, Mr de Carteret is asking Islanders to check garden sheds, garages and outbuildings.

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‘It is important that everyone looks out for hornets and nests,’ he said, adding that one of the nests found this year was as small as a light bulb.

‘We are going to start seeing more queens as they leave their primary nests to build new secondary nests.’

The Asian hornet (Latin name Vespa velutina) is believed to have arrived in Europe in 2004 inside a shipment of flower pots from China at the French port of Marseilles.

By 2011 it had reached St Malo. Last summer more than 3,000 nests were discovered and destroyed on the nearby Normandy coast.

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The Asian hornet is 17 mm to 32 mm long. It has a velvety black/dark brown mid-body with brown rear body segments bordered with a fine yellow band. The band closest to the tail is almost entirely yellowy-orange.

The legs are brown with yellow ends and the head is black with an orange-yellow face.

Information on sightings, ideally with a photograph, should be emailed to environment@gov.je or reported by calling 441600.

Paula Thelwell

By Paula Thelwell
author

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