asian hornet tracking
New technique allows experts to find and destroy hidden nests belonging to invasive predators

A deadly Asian hornet invasion threatening British honeybees could be averted using tiny electronic trackers.

Scientists have attached devices to the large insect predators and followed them back to their hidden nests, which can then be destroyed to stop them harming local pollinators.

They tested the technique in southern France and Jersey, where populations of the invasive species are already well established.

Bee keepers are worried about the Asian hornet, which was first reported in the UK in 2016.

The hornets prey on honeybees, hovering like attack helicopters outside their hives and grabbing them on the wing.

The bees are dismembered before being carried back to the hornets' nest to be fed to larvae.

In the new offensive against the hornets, the scientists were able to uncover five previously undiscovered nests.

Comment: Only five?...

Experts hope the research, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), will help turn the tables on the Asian hornet and prevent it colonising the UK.

Dr Peter Kennedy, who led the University of Exeter team, said: "Our new method of tracking offers a really important new tool to tackle the spread of this invader, providing an efficient means of finding hornets' nests in urban, rural and wooded environments."

The radio tags weigh just 0.2g and are attached to the hornet's body by sewing thread.

Powered by a minute battery, they transmit a signal that can be followed wherever the insect flies.

Asian hornets were accidentally brought to France in 2004, probably in an imported shipment of goods.

Comment: This is obviously speculation. Surely this could have occurred at any time in recent decades. Why is it all of a sudden that these creatures have reached these shores and are thriving?

Since then the dark brown and orange insects have spread rapidly through France and started to invade neighbouring countries. They have also become established in the Channel Islands.

Nicola Spence, Defra's deputy director for plant and bee health, said: "This work is key for ensuring a rapid response to Asian hornets when sightings are confirmed, and in future bee inspectors will be able to use this technique to take swift action."

Professor Juliet Osborne, another member of the University of Exeter team whose findings appear in the journal Communications Biology, said: "It is vital to find the nests early in the season to prevent the hornet spreading, as later in the year hundreds of new queens emerge and disperse from each nest, each with the potential to make new nests."

There have already been a handful of sightings of the invasive hornets in mainland Britain, including nests in Gloucestershire and Devon and a single individual in Lancashire.

In each case the relevant authorities reacted quickly and destroyed the insects, preventing them from spreading further.

Additional reporting by PA