A gardener in Jersey was rushed to hospital on Tuesday after being stung in the eye by what was thought to be an Asian hornet. This has unsurprisingly prompted headlines asking whether the species, which is already prevalent in Europe, could soon reach mainland Britain.
Well the bad news is that Asian hornets have already been sighted on the mainland.
Professor Adam Hart from the University of Gloucestershire tells HuffPost UK the first sighting was actually in Gloucestershire in 2016. Since then there have been confirmed sightings in Somerset, Woolacombe and, most recently, Lancashire.
So should we be worried?
What are the chances of Asian hornets settling in the UK?
Prof Hart says it’s highly likely we’ll be seeing more Asian hornets in the near future, which is very problematic for our beekeepers (as the hornets prey on honey bees) but not something the wider public should worry about too much.
“It’s something that we’ve been aware of in science for a while,” he says. “It’s on the horizon.”
What do they look like?
You might’ve seen photos being shared online of huge hornets a quarter of the size of a human hand. This isn’t the Asian hornet, but the giant Asian hornet (which thankfully isn’t found in the UK).
The Asian hornet is actually slightly smaller and darker in colour than other hornets, according to the National Bee Unit website. The fourth segment of its abdomen is yellow, while the rest is a dark colour. It also has yellow tips on its legs.
How painful is the sting?
Like other wasps, the Asian hornet will sting - but only if it feels threatened. Prof Hart describes the sting as “very painful”, more painful in fact than that of a wasp.
There’s also a risk of having a reaction to the hornet’s sting. Last week it was reported that French farmer Patrick Dupont had died after suffering an anaphylactic shock caused by an Asian hornet’s sting. The insect in question was found dead in Dupont’s car and the farmer later died in hospital.
According to Professor Hart, the chances of being stung by one are quite slim though. “They’re not particularly aggressive,” he says. “They aren’t out looking for trouble, they’re trying to avoid it.
“But we do sometimes put ourselves in harm’s way. If we interfere with nests they might defend themselves, or if they come to where we are eating and we swat them away.”
What should I do if I see one?
If you do see a hornet’s nest, the general advice is: do not approach it.
If you find a suspect Asian hornet or nest, you should contact the Non Native Species Secretariat immediately using their alert email address: email@example.com. This is important as the nest may need to be removed.
Give as much information as possible including your name, the location where the hornet was found and if possible an image of it.
“Please do not put yourself in any danger of getting stung when trying to take a photo,” advises the National Bee Unit. “Even if you are unsure of whether it is an Asian hornet, send it in anyway – it’s better to be safe than sorry.”