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Asian hornets turn ‘double agents’

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A JERSEY beekeeper has taken a new approach to gaining intelligence on the little-known lives of Asian hornets – by breeding a nest of ‘double agents’.

Beekeeper Bob Hogge checks his Asian hornet hive in a field in St Saviour

While many Islanders would want the invasive insects destroyed as quickly as possible, Bob Hogge is cultivating his own colony in the hope they will give away the secrets of how they have spread so rapidly across Jersey.

‘This has never been done before – everything I am doing is breaking new ground. These hornets will hopefully help us find out so much more about their lives – they are like informers,’ said Mr Hogge.

Asian hornets, which were first spotted in Jersey in August 2016 and have since colonised the Island, are considered a major threat as they prey on honeybees and other important pollinators.

Numerous nests have been destroyed in an attempt to control their spread, but very little is still known about their diet and daily behaviour.

And so instead of killing all of the small primary nests which have developed this year, Mr Hogge has taken the alternative approach of bringing some of them back to his home and furnishing the inhabitants with food and water – in return for vital information on how their kind operate.

In the delicate operation, a plastic tube is placed at the bottom of the nest to enable the hornets to be captured as they fly out. The nests are then removed and carefully placed inside a tank at his home, and the hornets are fed a healthy diet of insects and sugar water.

Three of the four nests captured so far – from St Lawrence, La Moye and St Mary – have died.

But the fourth nest is alive and well after Mr Hogge moved it outside and placed it in what any Asian hornet would consider paradise – his beefield in St Saviour.

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‘It has got about ten hornets in it at the moment. It should have 100 but at least it is still alive,’ said Mr Hogge.

‘Asian hornets are here and they are spreading but we know so little about them so it is important we find out what they are doing.

‘I want to observe them and find out where they are going and what exactly they are eating.

‘Other beekeepers think I am mad because the hornets will eat my bees. But the point is that hornets are going to eat my bees anyway. So they can eat them and we know nothing about them, or they can eat the bees and we learn more about their lives. That is the trade off,’ he added.

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It is hoped that the information gathered will help experts control the spread of the insects, which have moved through western Europe after arriving in France in a shipment of pottery more than a decade ago.

Although he hopes the nest will develop and grow, it will not lead to an increase in the Asian hornet population, as once the insects have delivered the required information, they will be killed.

‘Ultimately, if the nest survives – and it is a big if – I will have to destroy it if it gets to the stage where queens are starting to emerge,’ he said.

Mr Hogge has already discovered another important fact about Asian hornets – they are not particularly aggressive and their sting is no worse than that of a wasp.

Richard Heath

By Richard Heath
author

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