Before tracking, are you covered?

The British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA) insurance cover that is provided for registered beekeepers covers all that beekeepers do in their normal beekeeping, including swarm collecting but are not insured if trespassing or entering areas without the landowner's permission. Also, the are not insured if involved in trapping and releasing Asian hornets as this is an illegal activity, Asian hornets are an invasive species and sightings must be reported.

Members of the public have no insurance through the BBKA unless participating in beekeeping activities with BBKA members.

Beekeepers involved in tracking Asian hornets or searching for their nests in order to protect their bees are not insured if climbing ladders, trees or scaling buildings above the height specified in their BBKA policy concerning swarm collection. Beekeepers should only be involved in tracking activities directed by the National Bee Unit (NBU) and will not be insured if they are practically involved in Asian hornet nest destruction, this will be undertaken by specialist pest controllers appointed by the NBU.

(Source: British Beekeepers' Association.)

Please remember, the aim is not to kill other insects and pollinators while tracking Asian hornets.

It is illegal to trap and release an alien species, which means it is illegal to trap and release an Asian hornet.

What does tracking involve?

The following sequence of tracking has proven to be successful in enabling volunteers to track nest effectively:

  • Setting up a bait station
  • Checking the directions of flight
  • Recording those directions on a map
  • Timing flights
  • Setting up more bait stations using the above information in order to close in on the location of the Asian hornet's nest.

Learning from others

The following tracking information is based on the exerience and knowledge gained by volunteers on the island of Jersey since the invasion of Asian hornets on the island.

In October 2019, Alastair Christie, Jersey's Asian Hornet Coordinator, asked their team of volunteers for any tracking tips and thoughts that they would like to share. The point being to share ideas, try different methods and to get better at tracking nests more quickly to help reduce the number of hours spent looking for them. This is what they thought:

  • Every tracker has different methods and they all have merit otherwise they would have stopped using them.
  • An accurate sighing report, giving the place seen is crucial as it reduces the time it takes to get a track line.
  • Selecting the right Asian hornet is important and, based on experience, the smaller ones tend to be more reliable in returning regularly to their nest and once marked will produce more accurae times.
  • If possible the first bait station location should offer a clear line of sight which might mean moving the bait station once an Asian hornet visits to assist this.
  • Always allow an Asian hornet to visit a bait station or open monitoring trap (no lid) two or three times before marking so that they are habituated.
  • Once the Asian hornet is marked, return it back to the same bait station to fly back to its nest
  • Once a reliable track line and time is achieved, it's important to quickly place a bait station far enough ahead to get a back-marker and position a side station to achieve triangulation.
  • Believe in what the triangulation tells you. It's usual that the accuracy is not perfect but close enough to get spotters with binoculars to locate the nest which will usually be well hidden.
  • Tracking times become very variable once trackers close in to less than two minutes return time so it's more important to get line of sight so that triangulation can be achieved.

Asian hornet tracking

Guernsey bee inspector with a tracking kit to help find Asian hornets.
Steve Sarre Photography

Nests can be found anywhere from the ground up and include buildings, walls, hedges, bramble patches, cliff faces and of course trees of all differing species.

  • Never enter a large bramble patch without wearing a protective suit and always have someone watching you and the surrounding area for Asian hornet activity. You may be a matter of a few feet away from a nest without triggering an attack until the nest is vibrated. By which time the Asian hornets are on you before you realise they are there.
  • Nests tend to be positioned so that the entrance faces east or north east away from prevailing winds and able to receive the early sun and warmth. If you think the nest is in a tree, then remember to look for one that is positioned to catch the early sun, for example the easterly side.
  • Asian hornets tend to return to a bait station at low level and it's important to try and spot the direction they come back from to compare it with their flight line away from the bait station.
  • Asian hornets use gaps in hedges and buildings to reduce their travel time so it's important to place traps or bait stations in line with these gaps in order to attract them to the bait station quickly.
  • Do not use too much paint marker as an Asian hornet covered in too much marker paint is unlikely to prove a good one to track. Having said that, a totally fluorescent yellow Asian hornet can be easy to follow!
  • Ensure any Asian hornet nets that you catch them in are kept clean and free of attractant. The same applies to bait stations and traps. Asian hornets covered in attractant will never give accurate times as they will go off and clean themselves first before flying back to the nest.
  • Look out for Asian hornets defecating when they lift off from a bait station as it indicates that they will be flying to the nest without stopping to clean themselves.
  • Later on in the season when the weather isn unreliable, monitoring traps without their lids work well providing they are kept clean and a means of a ladder (such as a dry twig) is positioned inside the trap to help the Asian hornets fly back out.
  • When the weather is dull and the Asian hornets are not being attracted to the bait station, try putting some attractant into a foil tray and gently warming it on a gas burner or with a blow torch. The vapours will lift and spread far further than a static bait station.
  • Open bait stations should only have sufficient attractant to cover the base of the dish and a couple of small stones or pebbles placed in it so that the Asian hornets have something to stand on and feed.

Asian hornet monitoring tray

Open bait station showing attractant and pebbles for Asian hornets to stand on and feed
© Jenifer Tucker Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)

  • Avoid standing too close to a bait station or moving about too much as this will confuse the Asian hornets and may stop them from coming in to feed, or at the very least will slow down the speed with which they arrive, land, feed and leave.
  • If at any stage you get an Asian hornet flying off in a different direction from your bait station, record it and report it. It may be an indication of another nest in a different direction and will need following up on.
  • Make a note of (and perhaps map) any trees that are damaged/diseased such as those that are oozing sap. Butterflies, wasps and Asian hornets love them so you have a permanent bait station that can be monitored.
  • Make sure that traps go up after all nest removals to ensure no other activity. If a nest seems like a later stage primary nest, the queen may already have left and started a secondary nest close by.
  • Where you have a good number of Asian hornets visiting a bait station, remove all other Asian hornets except for the ones you are tracking. Do not kill them at the bait station site as their alert pheromones will alarm and attract other Asian hornets putting you at risk and disrupting the feeding process of the Asian hornets. Only three or four Asian hornets at most are needed to track.

Asian hornet monitoring jarEffects of removing Asian hornets

Every Asian hornet removed from the ecosystem is a benefit to wildlife.

It simplifies the management of the bait station and could also have some effect on the quantity of food going to the nest, which could have a drag effect on the nest's ability to produce more hornets by requiring a few extra days for the larvae to get to the required size to pupate. Any method that may have an effect on the speed of nest building and of disrupting food supply should be used alongside the main aim of track and destroy.

Which bait station works best?

From the experience of the Jersey volunteers, the wick bait stations have proven to be the best and offer greater benefits:

  • Weather proof
  • Larger reservoir of attractant
  • Easily home-made
  • Cloth wick with attractant keeps wafting scent into the air
  • Easy to attract Asian hornets on the cloth wick
  • Do not have by-catch (eg not killing other insects and pollinators).

Although it can take longer for the Asian hornets to feed off the cloth, it would be beneficial to glue a bottle top cap of liquid attractant to the lid of the wick jar so that the Asian hornets can feed from this much faster to speed up the tracking process.

Source: Permission kindly given by Government of Jersey to reproduce.

Did you know?

In the Asian hornet's natural range, the eastern honey bee (Apis cerana) guard bees use wing shimmering in response to the presence of Asian honets. This is a very generalised response to disturbance and has variously been suggested to be signal or a strategy for disruption of visual patterns, similar to the behaviour of other honey bees (Apis cerana nuluensis and Apis dorsata). However, our western honey bees (Apis mellifera) exhibit no such behaviour that can act as a deterrant.

Source: Wikipedia