First discovery in Ireland of invasive hornet species that threatens pollinators

Single Asian hornet found ‘alive but dying’ in private dwelling on the northside of Dublin

The Asian hornet is a predator of honeybees, wasps, other pollinators such as bumblebees, hoverflies and spiders. Photograph: Aidan O’Hanlon, National Museum of Ireland

The Asian hornet is a predator of honeybees, wasps, other pollinators such as bumblebees, hoverflies and spiders. Photograph: Aidan O’Hanlon, National Museum of Ireland

 

A single specimen of an Asian hornet, an invasive alien species, has been found in Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has confirmed. It has prompted a national alert issued to the public and beekeepers

It marks the first identification of the species in the wild in Ireland. The specimen was found “alive but dying” in a private dwelling on the northside of Dublin. At this time, there is no indication of a nest in the vicinity.

The Asian hornet is a predator of honeybees, wasps, other pollinators such as bumblebees, hoverflies and spiders, which it uses primarily to feed its larvae. These prey are important for pollination of crops as well as wild flora, while disruptions to their populations may have serious impacts on biodiversity and pollination services.

Photographs of the specimen taken by the homeowner were sent to the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) in Co Waterford, and later verified as an Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) by the National Museum of Ireland.

NBDC director Dr Liam Lysaght stressed there was “no evidence of breeding” at this point, adding the identification of the specimen was made very quickly – indicating the early warning system for invasive alien species had worked very well.

The circumstances of how the specimen arrived in the country are not known, according to the NPWS. There are many possible pathways of introduction particularly for small mobile invasive species in urban areas with extensive regional, national and international connectivity.

“However, given current weather patterns it seems less likely to have come from an established nest,” it added. The number of Asian hornet queens found in Britain has “increased dramatically in a week” with experts there saying they are being blown over from France due to prevalent easterly winds in recent weeks.

“While the discovery of a single specimen is not a cause for alarm, it does remind us of the potential for invasive alien species to find a path of introduction into new areas and also serves as a timely reminder that we should be prepared to deal with the threat they pose to biodiversity and local ecosystems,” the NPWS said.

The potential of the hornet to become invasive in Ireland is dependent on its successful establishment of colonies here.

The Asian hornet typically measures an inch-and-a-half in length and it is distinguished by a large head that is a mix of yellow and orange. Its sting is much more dangerous than that of bees or wasps and can cause “severe pain, swelling, necrosis and, in rare cases, death.

They can also pose a risk to livestock and other insects, as well as honeybees, which are already facing dwindling numbers and for which the hornets have a voracious appetite. A small group of Asian giant hornets can kill an entire honeybee hive in a matter of hours.

The NPWS is working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) to monitor the situation and put contingency measures in place. While both departments are concerned about the discovery of this insect, it should be stressed, on the basis of the ongoing surveillance, “there is no evidence that the Asian Hornet is established in Ireland at this time”, it added.

They have committed to immediate additional surveillance for the insect, especially around entry points in Ireland with direct access to mainland Europe including ports and airports along with large distribution hubs.

Other surveillance traps will be set in strategic locations from the original point of detection in Dublin 3. This is in addition to the “sentinel apiary programme” that DAFM operates with the cooperation of volunteer beekeepers. This involves surveillance for Asian hornet at apiaries located at strategic locations around Ireland.

Minister of State Malcolm Noonan said that while the public’s vigilance is welcome, “it is important that there should not be an over-reaction to sightings of other large insects such as wood wasps and native social wasps. It is imperative other species are not targeted, disrupted or destroyed on foot of this discovery of the Asian hornet specimen”.

Should any further Asian hornets be found, records of sightings, including photo if possible, can be submitted via the NBDC website – biodiversityireland.ie – or its easy to use NBDC mobile app, he said.

Further information including identification aids and contact details for the competent authorities can be found at www.biodiversityireland.ie/asian-hornet-alert/