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Yellow-legged Asian hornet © Karine MONCEAU

Tracking Asian hornets as they return to their nests: a method to control these dangerous honeybee predators

The Asian hornet Vespa velutina is an invasive species that arrived in France in 2004 and has since caused major damage to beekeeping. The current challenge is to try and control their population levels and thus reduce the pressure they exert on honeybee colonies. The most efficient measure at present is the earliest possible destruction of their nests, but the problem is how to locate them. INRA scientists and their colleagues at the University of Exeter in the UK have developed an original radio-telemetry technique which, by tracking these insects, enables the early detection of their nests. This work has just been published and offers a promising method for the control of Asian hornets.

Updated on 07/20/2018
Published on 07/13/2018

The Asian hornet is a dangerous honeybee predator. Since its arrival in France in 2004, its invasion front has extended gradually to Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Luxembourg. Possible factors that might restrict its spread are an absence of the water these insects require to build their nests, and altitude. Food resources are not limiting, because as well as predating insects, hornets can feed their offspring using other protein sources (meat or fish from market stalls, fishery waste, livestock carcasses). The only credible possibility to control this invasive pest is to limit its populations, and two techniques can be used at present: the relatively ineffective setting of bait traps for reproductive insects, the new queens that will found new colonies, and the other much more effective method of destroying the nests as early as possible.

INRA scientists and their British colleagues, specialists in using radio-telemetry in insects, have developed an original technique that involves equipping Asiatic hornets with radio tags so that they can be tracked back to their nests:

Tagging the insects while still enabling them to fly has involved lengthy development

Asiatic hornet equipped with a radio tag.. © Exeter University, Peter Kennedy
Asiatic hornet equipped with a radio tag. © Exeter University, Peter Kennedy

The INRA scientists captured “worker-killer” hornets foraging near beehives. They then equipped them with a radio tag which was suspended ventrally, tied with a cotton thread. After lengthy tests, the scientists selected workers weighing 0.35 g to carry a 0.28 g tag offering a range of 800 m. Indeed, they had previously observed that 80% of these worker insects could carry up to 80% of their body weight.
The tagged workers were trained to fly in a flight cage before they were released and the scientists could follow them at distance to their nest. It was thus possible to detect nests up to 1.33 km from the departure point of the worker.

Contact(s)
Scientific contact(s):

  • Denis THIERY (33 5 57 12 26 18) Joint Research Unit for Vine Health and Agroecology (INRA, Bordeaux Sciences Agro)
Press Relations:
INRA News Office (33 1 42 75 91 86)
Associated Division(s):
Plant Health and Environment
Associated Centre(s):
Nouvelle-Aquitaine-Bordeaux

Reference

Peter J. Kennedy, Scott M. Ford, Juliette Poidatz, Denis Thiéry, Juliet L. Osborne. Searching for nests of the invasive Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) using radio-telemetry. Communications Biology, 2018; 1 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s42003-018-0092-9