BBC News

Scientists track Asian hornets using radar and radio waves

By Rob England
BBC News Online

image copyrightJohn de Carteret
image captionA team from the University of Exeter has visited beekeepers in Jersey to field test special tags

Radar and radio waves could be used to track swarms of Asian hornets, scientists have said.

A government-funded team has been attaching specially-designed tags to hornets in Jersey and France to test the tracking systems.

The nine-month pilot project will run until November, with results expected in the next few months.

Asian hornets are a predatory species which feed on honey bees and other pollinating insects.

The most recent nest to be found in the UK was in Woolacombe, Devon, and there have been no further sightings in the area.

Pest controllers have also destroyed 11 nests in Jersey since April.

image copyrightJohn de Carteret
image captionAsian hornets pose no greater risk to human health than a British bee or wasp sting

The University of Exeter team, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), recently visited beekeepers in Jersey to field test special tags, one using radio waves and the other radar, which are fitted to Asian hornets.

The two systems the study has looked at include a radio tag, the Picopip, which is designed to be attached to small animals and a radar tag which is usually used by mountain rescue teams.

Juliette Osborne, who leads the team from the Environment and Sustainability Institute in Penryn, Cornwall, said they were looking to "slow down the rate of invasion" by being able to accurately track hornets back to their nests, so professional teams could quickly dispose of them.

Identifying an Asian hornet (Vespa velutina)

  • Asian hornet queens are up to 3cm (1.2in) in length, while workers are up to 2.5cm (1in)
  • Entirely dark brown or black velvety body, bordered with a fine yellow band
  • Only one band on the abdomen, with the 4th abdominal segment almost entirely yellow/orange
  • Legs brown with yellow ends
  • Head black with an orange-yellow face

Source: National Bee Unit

image copyrightJohn de Carteret
image captionAsian hornet nests are often at the top of trees and in "urban or complex environments"

A Defra spokesman said the government was carrying out "several initiatives" to stop the spread of Asian hornets.

In addition to the field test, Tim du Feu, from the States of Jersey's Department for the Environment, said the UK government was "extremely interested" in the work of "highly professional" local beekeepers in the island, who have been tracking Asian hornets by hand.

Asian hornets, what can I do?

Defra has advised anyone who believes they have found an Asian hornet nest to not go near it and report it using the Asian Hornet Watch app.

You can also report sightings by email to with a photo or on the Great Britain Non-native Species Secretariat website.

Related Topics

  • Bees
  • Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

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