It’s a birthday we could have done without. Even more the beekeepers. This year marks twenty years since the Asian hornet arrived in France. Transported by a boat from Shanghai in 2004, in a container of pottery bound for Villeneuve-sur-Lot (Lot-et-Garonne), the first founding females, once released, went to settle in a private park of the department, spent the winter there, and started their development cycle in 2005.
Twenty years later, almost all of France was colonized, and several European countries are starting to be as well. With dramatic consequences for the bee population. A study published last December by the Gironde Beekeeping Union (SAG) and the Bee Health Defense Group, reveals “exceptional predation by the Asian hornet on bee colonies” in the fall. 2023, which “leads professionals to think that very many queens have been produced and that their presence in spring 2024 risks being massive” indicates the Gironde departmental council. This is why the department and professionals are warning of the challenge represented by the “trapping” of these queens, which we must begin to realize now.
20 minutes went to meet beekeepers from southern Gironde who have been fighting for years to try to control the development of this invasive species.
How to make a good Asian hornet trap yourself?
There are traps that can be purchased commercially. Some town halls, such as that of Langon (Gironde), also distribute them free of charge to residents. Otherwise, you can make some at home “for zero balls”, as Langon beekeeper Philippe Fauché explains (his explanations can be found in the video below). A plastic bottle cut in half, a mixture made up of one third beer, one third “bad white wine” and one third syrup (blackcurrant, raspberry or strawberry), and that’s it. “The goal is to attract the hornets with the sweet side, while the white wine will repel the bees” explains Philippe Fauché.
What about other insects that might be attracted? “We make small holes on the sides to allow small insects, flies that would also be trapped to come out. » The trick is not 100% infallible, “but isn’t three trapped flies better than a child stung by a hornet? » asks Florence Veuille, beekeeper at the elixir hive in Saint-Loubès.
Why should we trap the Asian hornet in February?
It is in reality a matter of trapping the founder – or the queen –, who begins to come out of the hiding place in which she had settled at the end of autumn, beginning of winter. “As soon as it starts to freeze, they hide in holes, dead trees, old nests, to come out around February-March,” explains Florence Veuille. “The queen usually comes out when it is 13°C,” explains Philippe Fauché. I’ve already trapped two in the last few days. A colleague trapped one in January. Let’s not forget that it was almost 20°C very recently; with global warming, they come out earlier and earlier. »
These founders who are emerging are then looking for sugar to build their nest. “They will first make a primary nest, the size of a chicken egg, which will gradually grow until the end of summer, and the queen will increase her laying to up to a hundred eggs per day” explains Philippe Fauché. Thus, “each queen who has spent the winter will make a new nest, with between 5,000 and 13,000 individuals inside” points out Florence Veuille. “Trapping a queen means between 5,000 and 13,000 fewer hornets,” summarizes Philippe Fauché. This is why the two beekeepers insist on the “urgency” of having the traps “now”, particularly this year after heavy predation in 2023.
“Last fall, we counted almost 8,000 hives devoured by hornets in the territory of former Aquitaine,” laments Philippe Fauché. The year 2023 was “a real massacre” for beekeepers, who recorded over the year “no less than 1,014 colonies dead due to the Asian hornet, or 30 million apis mellifera bees,” warns the departmental council. from Gironde, also mobilized on the subject.
Should we place traps, including in town?
Yes, the invasion of Asian hornets does not only affect rural areas. “The hornet is increasingly colonizing cities because it is carnivorous and is attracted to trash cans. This causes more and more accidents with humans, the hornet’s sting can be very dangerous, underlines Florence Veuille. Everyone must get started, in their garden, on their balcony, because the actions of beekeepers are no longer enough. »
Should we be wary of the Asian hornet even at this time of year?
Of course. We must remain “very vigilant”, insists Philippe Fauché. “The founders are not in the trees in winter, rather around buildings. You must therefore look under the eaves, the verandas, the canopies, in the garden sheds… And when taking out your garden equipment, you must be very careful, in particular you must shake your gloves well, because sometimes a founder spent the winter in it. » And the beekeeper insists: when you see a nest, you should definitely not intervene yourself, “even if it is small” because it can be “very dangerous. » “You have to call the town hall, a beekeeping association, or a specialized private company. »
What damage does the Asian hornet cause?
An Asian hornet is a carnivore attracted to protein. “Six to eight times larger than a bee, it is a real predator,” explains Florence Veille. To catch its prey, it performs a stagnant flight in front of the hives, waits for a bee to arrive with legs loaded with pollen, catches it and takes it to a tree. There, he cuts off its head and butt, leaving only the thorax and pollen, which represent the proteins he is looking for. » Proteins that we also find “in trash cans or composters”.
A free distribution of hornet traps will take place this Saturday for the residents of Langon, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., at the corner of Cours des Carmes and R. Vouin.