More and more people are becoming aware of the dangers posed by invasive hornets

A study published in the open access journal NeoBiota reveals that citizens and stakeholders are becoming more and more aware of the Asian yellow-legged hornet

Wasps and hornets have a remarkable capacity of surviving transportation and establishing invasive populations in new areas. In some cases, this can generate massive environmental and socio-economic impacts. Such is the case of the Asian yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina), which has been spreading throughout Europe and worldwide, threatening to seriously impact beekeeping.

However, research shows that such invasions do not go unnoticed. A team of researchers working on the Asian yellow-legged hornet in Italy (Dr Jacopo Cerri from the University of Primorska, Slovenia, and Dr Simone Lioy, Prof. Marco Porporato and Prof. Sandro Bertolino, from Turin University, Italy) discovered that citizen awareness about invasive hornets is increasing

Asian yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina) attacking a colony of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in Italy. Photo by Prof. Marco Porporato

Moreover, they found that the relevant stakeholders – such as beekeepers – are aware of the hornet’s impacts. They consider the Asian yellow-legged hornet as one of the major causes of honey bee decline in Italy, comparing its effects to those of pesticides, and believing it causes more damage than diseases or other native insects.

To evaluate public awareness of this invasive hornet,the researchers adopted an innovative methodology, which they describe in a paper in the open-access journal NeoBiota. In addition to surveying beekeepers, the authors also analysed Internet searches, focusing on Google queries and visits to relevant Wikipedia pages.

Honey bee. Photo by Andy Murray, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The team found that beekeepers stayed up to date with information on the Asian yellow-legged hornet thanks to a wide range of different channels, such as the Internet, specialized magazines, and activities with other members of their community. Interestingly, they found that conventional media and mailing lists seemed to be of little contribution to knowledge on this species.

With high reproductive potential and no specialized predators, the Asian yellow-legged hornet predates intensively upon the western honey bee, which could decrease pollination, undermine honey production and inflict consequences for the overwinter survival of colonies. It also limits the foraging activity of honey bees by determining a “foraging paralysis”, a state in which honey bees do not leave the colony, fearing its predation. On top of that, as the species builds its nests mainly in or near urban areas, it poses a risk of stings to people, which in some cases could lead to fatalities.

An increased consciousness in citizens and stakeholders will hopefully lead to a higher number of ‘aware eyes’ able to spot invasive hornets in different environments, the researchers explain. Timely reporting of their presence would allow the speedy activation of more appropriate management measures, containing any possible damages before it’s too late.

Research article:       

Cerri J, Lioy S, Porporato M, Bertolino S (2022) Combining surveys and on-line searching volumes to analyze public awareness about invasive alien species: a case study with the invasive Asian yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina) in Italy. NeoBiota 73: 177-192. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.73.80359

Faster than a speeding bullet: Asian hornet invasion spreads to Northern Germany

Known to prey on many insects, including honey bees and other beneficiary species, the Asian hornet, which had recently invaded parts of Europe, presents a serious threat to apiculture and even to ecosystems. In their paper, published in the open-access journal Evolutionary Systematics, German scientists share concerns about this fast invader spreading to the north. In early September 2019, a single specimen was collected alive in Hamburg (Germany), representing the northernmost find of the species so far.

In early September 2019, an Asian hornet (Vespa velutina nigrithorax) was collected alive in Hamburg, Germany, representing the northernmost find of the species so far in Europe and indicating its further spread to the north. The paper by the research group from Hamburg, which also serves to update the occurrence of the dangerous invader, was published in the open-access journal Evolutionary Systematics

Known to prey on many insects, including honey bees and other beneficiary species, the Asian hornet, which had already invaded parts of Southern and Central Europe, is a potential threat to apiculture and even to ecosystems. 

The first specimen was captured in south-western France in 2005 and started to spread quickly. Over the next years, it invaded large parts of France and regions of Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Great Britain and south-western parts of Germany. The estimated invasion speed for France has been estimated at around 78 km/year, but in reality, the species spread might be occurring much faster due to anthropogenic factors.

It’s not yet clear if the collected Asian hornet belonged to an already settled population or it’s rather the first record of a new invasion. Nevertheless, considering the fast invasion speed of the species and its relatively high climatic tolerance, it’s quite possible that it had reached Hamburg on natural routes and now reproduces there.

Even though other models suggest that the Hamburg area is not suitable for the species today, the new find might be a sign that the Asian hornet has begun spreading at a speed above that previously known and even in climatically less favourable regions.

“Therefore, the current find needs to be taken seriously, no matter if it is only a single specimen or a member of an established population”, shares the lead researcher Martin Husemann from Centrum für Naturkunde, University of Hamburg.

Invasive species are one of the great challenges in the modern world. Their occurrence can be considered as one of the key important ecological and evolutionary drivers.

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Original source:
Husemann M, Sterr A, Maack S, Abraham R (2020) The northernmost record of the Asian hornet Vespa velutina nigrithorax (Hymenoptera, Vespidae). Evolutionary Systematics 4(1): 1-4.
https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.4.47358