It's worth checking your hives today and clearing the snow from landing boards to ensure entrances don’t get blocked up with snow or ice if there's a thaw followed by freezing temperatures. And don't worry if you see the odd dead bee which has been attracted by this morning's bright light and then succumbed to the cold.
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.
I’m delighted that in the coming year we’ll be working with Yeo Valley to raise awareness of Asian hornets with their customers and staff.
Yeo Valley is a national organic dairy company based in Blagdon and recently donated more than £3,600 to us which we’re using to fund our Asian hornet action teams across the county.
Our treasurer Christina Kennedy and I met Yeo Valley farmer Sarah Mead and Luke Bigwood, head of communications, at the farm to thank them for their generosity. And we took the opportunity to talk about the threat that Asian hornets pose to honeybees and pollinators.
We’ve just issued a joint press release in which Sarah said: “It is so important to raise awareness of the imminent danger to our bees and pollinators from the Asian Hornet. Until I met Anne Pike from Somerset Beekeepers’ Association I had no idea how serious the situation could become.”
Sarah’s comments should galvanise us all to tell everyone – family, friends, gardeners, wildlife watchers etc – about Asian hornets. Although there was publicity this year, a great deal more has to be done.
Incidentally, the money was donated by visitors to the company’s organic gardens where hundreds of crocheted bees made by the fabulous ‘Blagsaey’ yarn-bombers were displayed among the flowers. Thank you crocheters and garden visitors!
Anne Pike, SBKA Chairman