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A Royal Visit

Published on: 23 May, 2020
Updated on: 24 May, 2020

by Martin Giles

When I heard the buzzing I thought another bumblebee had wandered in through the window and I got ready to usher it back outside. Then, when I first saw it I thought our visitor was a Maybug. But it was not quite the right shape.

Queen hornet at St Catherine’s, fully four centimetres long, excluding antenna.

Curiosity gave way to the realisation this was a hornet but a hornet on steroids. I had never seen one so big. Eventually, using a glass and some card, I managed to capture it. What a specimen, fully 4cms long and fascinating up close.

Because of its size, I wondered if it was a queen, so with it pictured next to a ruler at the moment of release, I contacted our regular entomologist correspondent, Harry Eve. To my great satisfaction he agreed with my identification.

Another European queen hornet – Photo Harry Eve

He wrote: “Yes, it is a European hornet and the size means it must be a queen. The smaller workers should appear soon.

“I used to have to visit the New Forest to see these UK native insects but they have spread a lot in recent decades and are now quite common in Surrey. I saw my first of the year in my garden just before you sent your email. A neighbour also reported seeing one a few days ago.

“European hornets are considered to be less aggressive than wasps and I have never had any problem despite taking photos of them at close range whenever the opportunity arises. In fact, as far as I am aware, I have never been stung by a wasp and certainly not by a hornet.

“I am always careful not to breathe on them or blow them away in the rare event that one comes too close. That is because I understand they have evolved a reaction to the excess carbon dioxide that they would experience if a badger were attacking their nest.

“But I should point out that accidents can happen and a few people do suffer a severe allergic reaction (anaphylactic shock) to bee, wasp or hornet stings and then it is important to seek urgent medical help.

Asian hornet in France – Photo Harry Eve

“Doubtless, we will soon see articles, in the less responsible press, about invasions by ‘Killer Giant Asian Hornets’ and there is indeed a larger hornet in Asia that has a bad reputation but it has never been found in Europe as far as I am aware.

“There is a smaller Asian hornet that was accidentally imported to France and has spread, even turning up in the UK occasionally in recent years. The Asian Hornet is an economic threat to the bee-keeping industry and I have included a photo so that you can see the difference.”

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test 2 Responses to A Royal Visit

  1. Harry Eve Reply

    May 24, 2020 at 8:04 am

    One minor point in case it is misconstrued. I have no professional qualifications in Entomology. I do have a lifelong interest in wildlife and insects in particular and I have always been a wildlife gardener.

  2. Julian Sheppard Reply

    May 24, 2020 at 9:15 am

    I have been stung by a hornet and never want to be again. It’s far worse than a wasp sting, of which I have had many.

    A warning notice about a hornets’ nest in the crack of an old tree on the Thames Path had not deterred me from passing. As I came near, the hornets flew at me and I ran. Yet one got me on back of the neck.

    The sting is intense and the pain more focused than a wasp sting. It took about two hours to change to a throbbing and another two to change to a sore bruise feeling. Not recommended.

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