Friday, April 16, 2010

On its way to Britain: The killer Asian hornet which threatens our native honeybees

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Giant hornets with a searing sting and a hearty appetite for honeybees are heading for Britain.
The Asian hornet is four times the size of our native honeybees and its sting has been compared to a hot nail being hammered into the body.
It picks on honeybees as they leave their hive until the colony is so exhausted that the hornets can move in and ransack it.
 Asian hornet
An Asian hornet is seen in a beehive in south western France. The pest has decimated hives in Europe and is on its way to Britain
hornets
Bees can only kill the super hornets by starving them of oxygen. Experts fear British bees will not be able to develop this defence quickly enough
It is a further problem for the British honeybee, which is struggling to cope with changes in farming and climate and already has one Far Eastern invader to contend with - the varroa mite, which feeds on the bees and makes their hives more vulnerable to disease.
Now the Asian hornet, or Vespa velutina, has been spotted in northern France and experts believe it will head here. 
Tim Lovett, of the British Beekeepers' Association, said: 'People are on the lookout for it. It's an unpleasant little critter.'
The hornet is thought to have travelled to France on some Chinese pot plants in2004.
It has colonised huge swathes of the country and, with a few hornets capable of destroying 30,000 bees in a couple of hours, honey production has plummeted.
Groups of Asian hornets hover in front of a beehive, picking off single honeybees, decapitating them and stripping off their wings and legs before making off with the 'meat ball' to feed their young.
The bees are overwhelmed, clearing the path for the hornets to break into the nest and pillage it. 

In Asia, honeybees have learned to encircle an intruder and, by flapping their wings, cause it to overheat and die. But the French bees have not had enough time to evolve an effective tactic.
The hornet sting can be extremely painful to humans but, like bee stings, it is likely to kill only if the victim has a severe allergic reaction. 
However, the hornets can be pests; several people were attacked in France last summer.


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