After arriving in France in 2004 most probably at the port of Bordeaux in a consignment of Chinese pottery, the Asian hornet has found the climatic conditions to its liking and has started colonising large areas of France, and most recently (according to sightings from British beekeepers on holiday this summer) has now been spotted in Normandy.
Most prevalent in the South, and most notably the Aquitaine region, the hornet is instantly recognisable from its yellow feet. At up to two inches long, it is larger than the European hornet, and being bigger its sting packs a larger punch than a honey bee or a wasp. Although not generally aggressive towards humans, these hornet do pose a risk to humans indirectly since their main diet are honey bees and wasps. A small number of these hornets can destroy up to 30,000 bees in a hive within a few hours, and affected areas have seen a large decline in bee numbers since 2004. As a result of that, honey prices have risen, and in future, plant pollination may prove to be harder. Not all doom and gloom though, in Asia, bees have found a way to combat these hornets, they group together and surround the hornet in a ball, moving and beating their wings rapidly increasing the heat inside the ball until the hornet dies by heat exhaustion, however European honey bees have yet to learn that trick.
Advice for travelers in France is to call 15 should you be stung by one of these hornets, and for every resident, it is essential that you are able to recognise this pest, and take appropriate action. Although removal of nests is not yet free, the protection of our honey bees is essential, and an action plan where removal costs are met by the state is the logical next step.