Asian hornets causing a scare in Europe

British environmental agency on alert; Denmark unconcerned

(photo: Stephen Wright)
May 25th, 2014 1:00 pm| by admin
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The British tabloids have been in a frenzy with reported sightings of ‘Asian killer hornets’ in the UK. The wasp-like insects are said to be responsible for six human deaths from anaphylactic shock in France and some experts are quoted as saying that they can eat up to 50 honey bees a day.

The web-based science, research and technology news service Phys.org reports that the Asian hornet (vespa velutina) has been in France since 2005 and has since spread throughout the north of the country and into Belgium. It is thought to have been unwittingly imported through the port of Bordeaux.

Could they reach Denmark?
It is now feared that the species could spread to the UK and other countries through the transportation of goods. Until now there have been no confirmed sightings of the Asian variety in Britain – the scares have apparently been cases of mistaken identity with the native European hornet, vespa crabro.

Lars Vilhelmsen, an associate professor and curator in entomology at the Natural History Museum of Denmark,is not aware of Asian hornets having made their way to Denmark. 

“I haven’t seen them here,” he said. “They don’t look like the native Danish species. Because of their size, they would be noticed. People often send us photos of things they see in their gardens or in the woods. I suspect if it comes to Denmark we will learn about it soon after.”

Temperature tolerance crucial
According to Vilhelmsen, whether the species could survive in Denmark depends largely on their temperature tolerance. “Like European hornets, only the queen survives over winter. They try to avoid freezing by finding shelter, for example in houses,” he said.

“Generally, the warmer it is, the better it is for hornets.”

Sven Erik Sørensen is a pest control expert and runs the company hvepsefjerner.dk. Sørensen has come face-to-face with Asian hornets in Denmark, but that was in 2003 and was an isolated case.

“It was someone who had accidentally brought one back from the east in his luggage. But that was the only time. They’re not part of our fauna here in Denmark,” he said.

Emergency protocol
The British Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs has said that it has plans to control Asian hornets if they are confirmed to be in the UK – primarily because of the threat to bees. 

According to Katia Barnewitz of the Ministry of the Environment Information Centre, Denmark will not be following suit. “The Danish Environmental Protection Agency has not taken any precautions yet as to this matter,” she said.

(photo: Stephen Wright)
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