An urgent warning has been issued by experts as fears grow over a possible Asian hornet invasion in the UK.
British bee keepers have raised the alarm after they spotted 22 of the invasive species so far this year, which they believe is a massive increase over the years.
A single Asian hornet – described as the “lion of the insect world” – can devour up to 50 honey bees at a time.
In July, ten people were attacked by hornets on the Channel Islands and had to seek urgent medical assistance.
One hornet nest can contain up to 6,000 workers and 350 queens. The majority of the sightings so far have been in Kent.
However, experts worry as the hornets can wipe out colonies of honey bees and seriously upset the ecosystem, reported The Sun.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said 13 hornet nests have been destroyed so far this year. But bee keepers have warned that one missed nest could result in carnage for years to come.
Diane Drinkwater, chair of the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA), said: “We are very worried. If we miss one nest this year, then that will create lots of queens that will set up nests next year.
“That would devastate bees. In France, they have had losses of between 20 percent and 40 percent of bee populations in some areas.
“But it will also affect other pollinators. If you think Kent is the garden of England, it could devastate crop production.
“Asian hornets are wreaking havoc in Europe and we fear if they get a foothold in the UK our honey bees and many other insects will be decimated here, too. They are the greatest threat to beekeeping since the Varroa mite was discovered more than 30 years ago.”
Asian hornets look like large, black wasps with yellow legs, an orange face, and an orange band on the body. They are slightly smaller than native European hornets which are almost entirely yellow.
Diane added: “I have been told they have eliminated a couple of hives in Kent. I believe there was a case of a whole colony being wiped out, that is potentially 40,000 to 50,000 bees.
“They are only interested in the muscly bit of the bee around the thorax. They dissect the bee down the thorax and take that back to the nest to feed larvae.”
Defra’s chief plant and bee health officer Nicola Spence said: “By ensuring we are alerted to possible sightings as early as possible, we can take swift and effective action to stamp out the threat posed by Asian hornets.
“That’s why we are working at speed to locate and investigate any confirmed sightings of Asian hornets.
“While the Asian hornet poses no greater risk to human health than other wasps or hornets, they can cause damage to honey bee colonies and other beneficial insects.
“Please continue to look out for any Asian hornets and if you think you’ve spotted one, report your sighting through the Asian hornet app or online.”