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Murderous Asian hornets terrorise beehives in Limburg

The Asian hornet close up, photographed in Belgium in 2017. © Gilles San Martin, Wikimedia

Beekeepers in Opgrimbie near Maasmechelen in Limburg province have reported sighting of at least 16 Asian hornets – a serious danger for beehives in the area.

The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) is a type of wasp, and not to be confused with the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), commonly known as the murder hornet.

V. velutina, however, is a terrifying enough creature in its own right.

You could call the hornet the wolf of the insect world,” explained Jos Ramaekers of the Flemish nature conservancy agency Natuurpunt.

They are predators that target bees, bumblebees, flies and aphids. The difference between the European and the Asian hornet is that the Asian is specialized in killing honey bees,” he said.

“They live in a colony but do not hunt in groups. They actually pass on information to other hornets where prey can be found. As soon as one hornet finds a hive, the bees are picked one by one.”

The hornets, he said, hang around outside the entrance to the beehive, and wait for an unsuspecting bee to leave or arrive. Then they snatch their prey out of the air.

So they are actually waiting for the bees at the front door,” Ramaekers told VRT News.

The hornet is armoured, and larger and faster than the honey bee, making it difficult for bees to defend themselves. And in contrast to the European hornet, which tends to operate alone, the Asian variant is able to eradicate an entire hive.

Bees do have one secret weapon, however: the bee-ball. Acting together, a group of bees will surround the hornet from all sides, crowding in on it and eventually killing it by raising its body temperature – essentially being cooked by its own food.

The European hornet (Vespa crabro) is considered useful to beekeepers, Ramaekers said, because they prey on the common wasp.

Natuurpunt’s advice: if you spot an Asian hornet’s nest, call the fire brigade to have it destroyed.

This species does not belong here and can disturb the balance in nature,” Ramaekers said.

If it continues to spread in our country, it will become a real problem for beekeepers and honey bees. When someone spots an Asian hornet, this must be reported. This way, the fire brigade can clean up the nest professionally. This is especially important during this period, because it’s now possible to wipe out the last batch of new queens before they can survive the winter somewhere.”

But how to recognise one? Natuurpunt offers a description.

While the Asian hornet has 13 different colour patterns in Asia, only one type (Vespa velutina nigrithorax) has been spotted here. It has, as the name suggests, a black velvet breast or thorax, black legs with yellow tips, an orange-red face and yellow-orange abdomen – the last section of the body.

Worker hornets grow up to 25mm, and queens to 30mm.

The innocent European hornet, meanwhile, has red legs, red on head and thorax and yellow on the abdomen, and is slightly bigger, measuring up to 35mm.

In both cases, the sting is harmless for humans, albeit uncomfortable, unless you are allergic.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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