Asian Hornet

Asian Hornet

Have you seen an
Asian Hornet?

The non-native yellow-legged Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) poses a risk to various insect species in the UK, including vital pollinators like bees. This species is particularly menacing to honey bees and is officially recognized as a notifiable species. If spotted, individuals are urged to report sightings of the Asian Hornet immediately via the Asian Hornet Watch app, an online form, or by emailing the Non-Native Species Secretariat with accompanying photographic evidence and location specifics. There are also many simple ways you can attempt to trap an Asian hornet for monitoring purposes. More on this below.

European hornet (Vespa Crabro)

Asian Giant hornet (Vespa Mandarinia)

A Case of Mistaken Identity

The Asian hornet differs from our native European hornet (left, top), yet the two are frequently confused. Additionally, it’s commonly mistaken for the Asian Giant hornet (left, bottom), which has recently appeared in the United States. Both species have earned the moniker “murder hornet” due to their capacity to decimate honey bee colonies or inflict fatal stings on humans. Nevertheless, the vast majority of stings typically cause moderate but temporary discomfort, including pain, redness, and itchiness.

So, how do you tell them apart?

Asian Hornet

  • Asian hornet has yellow legs
  • Asian hornet’s head is dark from above, yellow from the front
  • Asian hornet has dark coloured antennae
  • Asian hornet has dark brown/black abdomen with a yellow/orange band on 4th segment

Asian hornet abdomen almost entirely dark except for 4th abdominal section

European Hornet

  • European hornet has red legs
  • European hornet’s head is red from above and yellow from the front
  • European hornet has red antennae
  • European hornet has a yellow abdomen with a black/brown first segment

Asian Hornets in Britain

The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) is native to Asia and was confirmed for the first time in Lot-et-Garonne in the southwest of France in 2004. It is thought to have been imported in a consignment of pottery from China and quickly established and spread to many regions of France. As of December 2022, Asian hornet is established in Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Jersey.

The hornet preys on a wide range of insects including honey bees, and disrupts the ecological role they provide. It has altered the biodiversity in regions of France where it is present and can be a health risk to those who have allergies to hornet or wasp stings..

In 2016, the Asian hornet was discovered in the UK for the first time, in Tetbury. After 10 days of intensive searching, the nest was found and destroyed. On the same day, a single hornet was discovered in a bait trap in North Somerset. Genetic analysis confirmed that the hornet nest found in Tetbury and the dead hornet found in North Somerset were of the same genetic population (Vespa velutina nigrithorax) as those which came from Eastern China to France.

In September 2017, an Asian hornet was identified in an apiary in Woolacombe, Devon. Ten days later, the nest was found and destroyed.

There were no more confirmed sightings until April 2018, in the Bury area of Lancashire. A member of the public found the hornet on a cauliflower. The Asian hornet was traced back to Boston, Lincolnshire. The Asian hornet was likely to be a queen at that time of year and was never found. The NBU is hoping that the queen had been brought into the UK rather than being a mated overwintered queen that was already here.

Lifecycle and Behavior of the Asian Hornet

The Asian hornet, smaller than our native species, European hornet, measures around 25mm in length (workers), while queens reach 30mm. Its predominantly black abdomen is distinguished by a yellow band on the fourth segment. Also recognizable by its yellow legs, it’s commonly referred to as the yellow-legged hornet, and its face exhibits an orange hue complemented by two brownish-red compound eyes.

After hibernation in spring the queen will emerge and seek out an appropriate sugary food source in order to build up energy to commence building a small embryonic nest. During construction of the nest, she is alone and vulnerable, but she will rapidly begin laying eggs to produce the future workforce. As the colony and nest size increases, a larger nest is either established around the embryonic nest or they relocate and build elsewhere.

An average colony produces 6,000 individuals in a single season. While adult hornets primarily sustain themselves on carbohydrate sources from nectar, larval secretions, or ripe fruits, they must continuously forage for protein to feed the developing brood. This protein is obtained in the form of a ‘flesh pellet,’ a small piece of proteinaceous material carved out from the protein-rich thorax of a captured arthropod or from carrion. From July onwards, predation by Asian hornets on honey bee colonies begins and escalates until late November, with hornets observed hovering outside hive entrances, awaiting returning foragers, a behaviour known as “hawking.” Upon catching a returning bee they make the flesh pellet by removing the wings, legs, head and abdomen. They transport the flesh pellet back to their nest where it is chewed into a sticky liquid and fed to their own larvae.

During autumn, the nest’s priorities shift from foraging and nest expansion to producing on average 350 potential gynes (queens) and male hornets for mating, however, of these potential queens, only a small amount will successfully mate and make it through winter. After the mating period, the newly fertilised queens will leave the nest and find somewhere suitable to over-winter, while the old queen will die, leaving the nest to dwindle and die off. The following spring, the founding queen will begin building her new colony and the process begins again.

BBKA Asian Hornet Sightings and Incursion Map

Click the map once to activate, then click on the icons to view details
Click on the  logo to customize your view by year. You have the option to observe a single year or multiple years simultaneously.
This incursion map will update with any further sightings of Asian Hornets and includes sightings in the UK since 2016

Click on the  logo to customize your view by year. You have the option to observe a single year or multiple years simultaneously.
This incursion map will update with any further sightings of Asian Hornets and includes sightings in the UK since 2016

Action you can take now

  • Make sure you can recognize Asian hornet (Vespa velutina nigrithorax) and know the differences between the Asian hornet and the European hornet (Vespa crabro).
  • Download the Asian Hornet Watch app (iPhone | Android) This is the preferred method of reporting.
  • Know the life cycle of the Asian hornet.
  • Download, print and display the following resources (or request them directly from BeeBase).
  • Know your apiary GPS location.
  • Have easy access to nets, jars with lids, binoculars. Prae Wood and Oaklands teaching apiaries have AHT boxes containing these items (members only resources).
  • Look for Asian hornet nests.
  • Liaise with those in your community – other beekeepers, allotmenteers and gardeners and anyone else with an interest in protecting our native wildlife.

Collecting Evidence:

  • The NBU will not take any action until evidence of the Asian hornet has been produced – either a photograph or a sample. It is imperative that Asian hornets can be positively identified. Please get to know what it looks like.
  • According to some sources, it is easier to collect a sample than obtain a suitable photograph.
  • It is easier and safer to work in pairs.
  • If there is more than one hornet predating, try videoing them.
  • Butterfly nets, tennis rackets and electric fly swats are useful tools for temporarily stunning Asian hornets and knocking them to the ground.
  • With all this advice, caution must be stressed. Do not put yourself or others at risk. If in doubt, contact your AHT Coordinator (find on map), or your AHT contact at Prae Wood or Oaklands, if you suspect Asian hornet presence.

For further information on collecting samples and more, visit our Asian Hornet Teams page.

Asian Hornet Gallery

Vespa velutina
Hymenoptera: Vespidae

The Asian Hornet is a hornet of Asian origin which is a generalist predator of medium and large sized insects, and scavenger of vertebrate carrion. It has recently been spreading in Asia (it is an invasive species in South Korea and Japan), and the subspecies V. v. nigrithorax has been accidentally introduced to Europe where it was first recorded in southern France in 2005. Since then it has been found in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, the Channel Islands and the Balearic Islands.

This invasive species threatens honey production and native pollinating insects. It may be introduced and transported accidentally with soil associated with plants, garden furniture and pots, timber, vegetables, camping equipment, etc.

Most of the 22 hornet species originate in Asia. Only two species are native to Europe: the European hornet, Vespa crabro Linnaeus (1758) and the oriental hornet Vespa orientalis Linnaeus (1771)

Like other social wasps, hornets build communal nests by chewing wood to make a papery pulp. Each nest has one queen, which lays eggs and is attended by workers that, while female, do not lay fertile eggs. Most species make exposed nests in trees and shrubs, but some (such as Vespa orientalis) build their nests underground or in other cavities. In the tropics, these nests may last year-round, but in temperate areas, the nest dies over the winter, with lone queens hibernating behind tree bark or in leaf litter and other insulative material until the spring.

Male hornets are docile and do not have stingers.