Asian hornet warning: Population could explode by mid-2019

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Beekeeper and JEP nature correspondent Bob Tompkins has been at the forefront of local efforts to contain the insect since it first arrived in Jersey in August 2016.

This year he has been part of a task force, working with the Environment Department and UK government-funded insect experts, that has found and destroyed 52 nests since April.

He fears that if the local Asian hornet growth rate matches that seen in European countries it has colonised since arriving in the south of France from China in 2004, by next summer there could be more than 200 colonies here. Each colony can contain up to 6,000 insects and 200 queen

‘I would expect a significant increase in the local population next year,’ he said. ‘This would probably result in about 200 nests, but it is possible there could be more. It is the “$64,000 question”, as we do not know what effects the local conditions will have on the queens over the winter.’

At this time of year, queens mate and leave existing colonies to die off. They hibernate until spring, when they emerge to establish new nests.

‘Research in France shows that about 90 to 95 per cent of queens die out over the winter, but the conditions in parts of France can be much colder than in Jersey,’ he said. ‘From our experience studying them since they arrived in Jersey, we believe there will be a higher percentage survival rate here, which could be a big problem for us.’

A single hornet can kill 50 honey bees a day and each queen has the potential to form a new colony. They also prey on other key pollinating insects which, like bees, are essential for the natural growing cycle of food crops.

Since it arrived in the French port of Marseilles in 2004, the Asian hornet has spread across western Europe and the Channel Islands. Only a couple of nest have been discovered in England and UK authorities are closely monitoring what is happening in the islands.

The Asian hornet’s capacity to reproduce on a prolific scale is evidenced by the experience of Galicia in northern Spain, where the country’s first two nests were detected in 2012, rising to more than 10,600 two years ago. It reached St Malo in 2011 and last summer more than 3,000 nests were discovered and destroyed on the nearby Normandy coast.

A strategy meeting is planned for November, involving the Environment Department, local and French Asian hornet experts, to review research undertaken with the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and to plan for a population explosion on a larger scale in 2019.

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