As 2019 begins, our minds turn to the forthcoming beekeeping season, writes SBKA Asian Hornet Action Team Co-ordinator Lynne Ingram MB in the January issue of the newsletter.
At the moment we may be giving fondant to our bees, doing mid winter varroa treatments or perhaps planning our beekeeping goals for the year ahead. But, whatever else you are doing, you do need to be thinking about Asian Hornets.
Last year there were four nests found and destroyed in the UK, and nine confirmed sightings. As the numbers build up in Europe, and Northern France, the threat of Asian Hornets invading the UK increases, and we all need to be very vigilant in order to prevent/slow a major invasion. Asian hornets (Vespa velutina nigrithroax) are voracious predators of pollinators, and in particular honeybees, whose colonies contain a vast number of insects in one place – a veritable insect supermarket for the Asian Hornet!
So what are Asian Hornets doing this time of year?
Mated queens are now overwintering in cracks, crevices and sometimes underground. They can hibernate singly or in small groups. We don’t know as yet, if there are any hibernating in the UK. Like bees they feed well in the Autumn, in order to build up their fat bodies to sustain them during the long winter. Like other members of the wasp family, they overwinter with their wings, legs and antennae protectively tucked in underneath them. The rest of the colony would have died out in December.
As the days lengthen in March or April (depending on the weather), the queens start to come out of hibernation, and firstly search for nectar rich flowers, in order to build up their energy. In France and Jersey they are often seen on early Camellia flowers, so if you have any, it may be worth keeping an eye out for Asian Hornet queens. Queens search for a nest site, then start creating golf ball sized embryo nests, which are generally in sheltered spots such as sheds or garages. To start with the queen will be laying the eggs, foraging for food and feeding the larvae. She may curl herself around the pedicel of the nest to keep the larvae warm. Once the first workers emerge, they will take over many of these tasks, leaving the queen to lay eggs. If you see a nest, check for Asian hornet activity, then photograph it before reporting it.
This is the time of year when a monitoring trap can be invaluable, attracting the queens to a sugar rich bait. It is important though that beneficial insects, such as European hornets and wasp queens, can be released from these traps in order to protect our native pollinators. You can make a trap from a water bottle as illustrated below (instructions on Beebase) www.nationalbeeunit.com/downloadDocument.cfm?id=1056
or buy a commercially available trap, and instead of filling the bottom with liquid bait in which insects would drown, scrunch up some kitchen towel so that insects can suck the bait from the paper without drowning. Or place a yogurt pot full of bait inside the trap, with a mesh or net covering to prevent drowning. Don’t forget to inspect your traps regularly, and release anything else that has been captured.
If you find an Asian Hornet
If you do find an Asian hornet in your trap, the key is to get evidence so that you can report it. You could take a photo through the trap wall, or put the trap in a bag in the freezer, and then photograph the hornet once it is dead. Email your photo with details to: firstname.lastname@example.org or use the Asian Hornet Watch app.
Somerset Asian Hornet Action team
If you think you may have seen an Asian Hornet and are struggling to get evidence, or need some advice then contact the Somerset Action team on: email@example.com and someone will come and help with identification and getting evidence.
We've been contacted by the BBKA and asked to share a document written by Anne Rowberry, a BBKA Trustee and member of SBKA, regarding 'The Role of Associations and Beekeepers concerning Asian Hornets'.
She has attended meetings and had discussions with Nigel Semmence, Contingency Planning & Science Officer, Bee health advice service at the National Bee Unit. This document is the summary of the protocol that has been agreed.
The BBKA will post further information as it becomes available://www.bbka.org.uk/asian-hornet-action-teams
The BBKA is in the process of creating a map on its website, similar to the swarm map, to help the public find their local AHAT contacts.
Nigel Semmence's overview of how Defra and other organisations are operating in relation to Asian hornets is also published on the BBKA website.
Luke McEvoy-Hughes is a student studying Environmental Sciences at the University of Brighton and would like our help!
He writes: "As part of my final year I am carrying out an independent research project into beekeeping, aiming to explore the different issues encountered by beekeepers as well as the strategies and methods employed by beekeepers to ensure the health and prosperity of their colonies."
Anyone willing to answer a short survey should follow the link below:
The start of the New Year is an excellent time to look ahead to the coming season and plan what you'd like to achieve with your bees. Whether that's trying a new type of hive, creating more colonies or breeding your own queens (and this is the year to mark them green), then give it a go!
SBKA is focusing on helping all members recognise EFB through leaflets, new digital content and 'Read the Comb Day' on June 15.
Also, we want to alert everyone in Somerset (and beyond) to be on high alert for Asian hornets. We'll be running a publicity campaign via the press and our own social channels as well as working with organic, national dairy Yeo Valley to spread the message far and wide.
If you have connections with local gardening groups, garden centres, wildlife groups and trusts etc, please spread the word. [You can request laminated Asian hornet posters from the Non Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) to give to these groups].
Our Asian Hornet Action Team is getting prepared ahead of the Spring and we're printing new leaflets and ID cards for members ready for what we expect will be more sightings this year.
Here's hoping that 2019 brings us strong and healthy colonies supported by local people who, just like us, want to see honeybees and all pollinators flourish.