Here’s how to tell Asian hornets apart from bees and wasps - and what to do if you spot one

Wednesday, 26th August 2020, 3:24 pm
Updated Wednesday, 26th August 2020, 3:24 pm
Reports of Asian hornets invading the UK during the summer have been common over the past few years, with media reports in recent weeks warning of ‘murder hornets’ potentially invading the UK (Photo: Shutterstock)

Reports of Asian hornets invading the UK during the summer have been common over the past few years, with media reports in recent months warning of ‘murder hornets’ potentially invading the UK.

The Asian hornet has been making its ways across Europe over the last two decades, with the Channel Islands already reported to have a problem with the insects.

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Experts are now warning that the UK is set to be 'invaded' by killer Asian hornets in the coming weeks, beginning with 'Bee-Day' on 7 September.

Officials say that these hornets are heading to the UK, but what are ‘murder hornets’ and what should you do if you spot one?

Here's what you need to know.

What are Asian hornets?

Murder hornets, commonly known as the Asian giant hornet, is the world’s largest species of hornet.

Its body measures about two inches and it is native to parts of Asia, but it can sometimes be found in other countries.

The nickname of ‘murder hornet’ relates to the hornet’s potentially fatal sting and its aggressive group attacks, which are carried out particularly against bees.

Officials in Washington State in the US asked members of the public to report any sightings of the hornets in April, warning that the species could be dangerous to US bee populations.

However, some insect experts said that reports about the threat that the hornet species pose have been sensationalised.

An Asian giant hornet was also discovered in Washington State at the beginning of June, scientists have confirmed, being the third found in the United States.

However, officials have said that these sightings have been confined to a relatively small area in the northwest corner of the state, and therefore there’s still a chance to stop the spread of the species.

Can Asian giant hornets kill humans?

Deaths in humans from Asian hornets are rare, but it’s said that the hornet’s venom can lead to anaphylactic shock or cardiac arrest.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the species is responsible for an estimated 30 to 50 deaths per year in Japan, but it remains unclear whether the Asian giant hornet is deadlier than other wasps and hornets.

What do Asian hornets look like and how are they different to wasps and bees?

The British Beekeepers Association notes that Asian hornets, have:

  • Mostly black bodies except for its 4th abdominal segment which is a yellow band located towards the rear
  • Characteristic yellow legs which accounts for why it is often called the yellow legged hornet
  • Orange faces with two brownish red compound eyes
  • Vespa velutina queens are up to 30 mm in length; workers up to 25 mm (slightly smaller than the native European hornet Vespa crabro)

Bees are generally easy to spot because of their golden colouring and the tiny hairs all over their bodies which make them appear 'fuzzy'.

Wasps can be identified by their bright yellow and black rings, defined waist and tapered abdomen.

Regular hornets are specific types of wasp and are usually a little rounder and fatter than the common wasp.

An easy way to tell hornets and wasps apart is their brown, red and yellowish-orange markings with little black on the body. They can grow to be 5.5cm in length.

What should I do if I spot an Asian hornet?

The UK Government does not have specific guidance for the Asian giant hornet.

However, it does have advice on what to do if you see the smaller Asian hornet that is sometimes found in the UK.

Members of the public are not advised to try and remove a nest themselves. This should be done by experts.

However, if you think you have seen an Asian hornet you should report this using the ‘Asian Hornet Watch’ app.

You can download this on both iPhones and Android smartphones.

What information will I need to provide?

You will be asked to include information on:

  • the location and date of the sighting
  • the number of Asian hornets you saw
  • if possible, a photo to help identify the insect

If the sighting is confirmed, officials from the National Bee Unit and the Animal and Plant Health Agency will work in order to try and locate and then get rid of any Asian hornet nests.