Asian hornets warning as aggressive 3cm long flying insects with nasty sting surge in UK

-Credit: (Image: Nicolas Reusens/Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: Nicolas Reusens/Getty Images)

Asian hornets have been spotted in the UK sparking fears of a new invasion. It comes after record numbers of the wasp-like creatures were reported last year.

Since 2016 there have been 108 sightings of Asian hornets, with 56 of those in 2023, government figures stated. So far, eight sightings have been recorded in 2024, with experts issuing a warning amid the warmer weather.

A nest was found this week outside Krusties Café in Kent, with pest controllers called in to handle the situation. Owner Paul Jeffries, 56, told media: "[The expert] just smiled with glee. They were so excited because they had never seen a nest this young. To be the first one in the UK was quite honourable. The scientists were like kids in a lollipop shop they had never seen one before."

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On Monday, the UK’s chief plant health officer, Professor Nicola Spence, urged UK beekeepers and the public to be increasingly vigilant to the presence of Asian hornets. But how do you spot one? What should you do if you see one? And do they pose any risks? For the latest Welsh news delivered to your inbox sign up to our newsletter

How to spot an Asian hornet

Asian hornets do not look like an average wasp and are easily identifiable. According to the British Beekeepers Association they have an almost entirely dark brown or black body with an orange stripe on their fourth section (rear). They have brown legs with yellow tips. Queens can be up to 30mm long, with workers up to 25mm.

What should you do if you see one?

If you think you've come across an Asian hornet, it is vital that you report it immediately. You can do this by downloading the Asian Hornet Watch app, or through an online form. You can also email and attach a photo if possible - but only if it is safe to do so.

Professor Spence said: "By ensuring we are alerted to possible sightings as early as possible, the public can help us take swift and effective action to stamp out the threat posed by Asian hornets. While the Asian hornet poses no greater risk to human health than other wasps or hornets, they can damage honey bee colonies and harm other pollinators.

“Please continue to be vigilant for any Asian hornets and if you think you’ve spotted one, report your sighting through the Asian hornet app or online.”

Are Asian Hornets harmful to humans?

Asian hornets are smaller than the UK’s native hornet, and generally pose no long lasting or serious risk to humans. In very rare cases someone can be allergic to their sting.

This can cause more uncomfortable symptoms such as difficulty breathing, hives and swelling. In extremely rare cases, a sting may cause death due to an anaphylactic reaction – a life-threatening allergic reaction in which blood pressure falls and the airway closes.

Asian hornets are not known to be aggressive, but they are very protective of their nests. If they feel threatened they can swoop and sting in mass attacks. It is important you do not approach or disturb their nests. It is said that their stings can be more painful than a bee sting. However., as the government states in its warning, the risk overall is fairly small – “posing no greater risk to human health than native wasps and hornets”.

However, if an Asian hornet stings you, it is important to wash the area thoroughly with soap and cool water immediately. Apply ice to slow the venom spreading further. Don’t worry if you can’t see the stinger, as they don’t leave one. If you have been stung multiple times or notice signs of an allergic reaction then it is important to seek medical attention. If you’re in any further pain take an antihistamine or apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to reduce the stinging and itching sensation.

Are they destructive to wildlife?

According to Dr Gavin Broad, a wasp expert at the Natural History Museum, Asian hornets are bad news for British bees and are considered invasive. They eat a variety of insects, but have specialised behaviour for preying on bees.

"The hornets raid honeybee hives by sitting outside them and capturing workers as they go in and out," explains Gavin. "They chop them up and feed the thorax to their young."

He said currently the species was not established in the UK, meaning they had not yet caused significant or widespread problems. However, there is potential in the future for more harm if they do start to thrive here.

Dr Broad said: "At the moment we're hoping people notice the nests early enough. Nests have been destroyed in Britain, but they'd probably do quite well if they got established. It's a distinctive enough species that people notice it - but it only takes one queen for them to make it."