Swathes of killer Asian hornets are expected to arrive in the UK this year, with experts warning the numbers could reach record levels.
The number of queens spotted on the Channel Island of Jersey is already close to surpassing the record set in 2019, with 63 having already been discovered.
So far this year, a total of 38 queens have been found by members of the public and a further 25 were caught in traps around the island. As such, numbers have almost surpassed the record number recorded two years ago, when 69 killer queens were found in 2019.
Six nests have also been spotted this year, which is down from the same period in 2019.
A threat to the UK’s native bees
The insects first appeared in Jersey in late 2016 and could be devastating to the UK’s native bee population, as one hornet can eat up to 50 bees in a day.
After years of establishing themselves on Jersey and Guernsey, the battleground shifted last year to Southern England, leading to calls for a "people's army" to help fight off an impending invasion of killer hornets onto mainland Britain.
The Asian hornet is smaller than our native hornet and while it poses no greater threat to humans than a bee, it can harm honey bees.
When the hornets find a bee colony or apiary, they focus on honey bees as their prey.
The species began spreading through Europe in 2004 after arriving in the south of France inside a freight ship, and are increasingly common across the Channel.
The hornets contain a neurotoxin that can kill with a single sting, which could be lethal to someone who is allergic.
Alastair Christie, Jersey's Asian hornet coordinator, described the figures as "slightly alarming" but urged people not to panic.
He said: “We are on track to surpass 2019 numbers, but trapping in 2019 was minimal and we are also a lot better at it now.
"So with the increase in trapping and the help from the public it stands to reason that we would find more.
"I am hoping that we have caught a greater proportion of the queens this year and that the number of nests won't be as high."
Insect tracking underway
Mr Christie said the first worker hornets would be emerging in the next few weeks and a local team of volunteers will begin tracking the insects to give a “clearer picture” of how the rest of the year could unfold.
Islanders are being encouraged to check their sheds, garages and other outdoor areas for signs of any nests, and are urged to report any sightings of an Asian hornet.
The insects look similar to native European hornets, but can be identified by their darker colour.
Their bodies are dark brown or black and they feature a yellow coloured band across their lower end, a bright pale yellow belt at the waist, and yellow on the lower half of their legs.
Queens can grow up to 3cm in length, while workers reach up to 2.5cm.
Members of the public can report any sightings of an Asian hornet by emailing [email protected] and attaching a photo if possible, or online via Non-native Species Secretariat.