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SPRING TRAPPING OF ASIAN HORNET QUEENS

GENERAL
The subject of trapping is surrounded by controversy, mainly concerning its effectiveness and its impact on other species and can risk pulling beekeepers in different directions.
Naturally, we all want to be fully pro-active, use the best equipment and techniques available, and protect our bees.
However, it’s important to understand that traps are not a silver bullet that will solve the problem of the Asian Hornet in our apiaries – they are just one weapon in our defensive armoury as part of an Integrated Apiary Management Strategy.
o protect biodiversity, it is essential to avoid catching insects of other species as far as possible.  Even if they are released, the experience of being captured and imprisoned with other insects is highly stressful. It has serious effects on them from which they may not fully recover, including staying alive for very long after release or being able to reproduce.
Whatever the manufacturers and their supporters claim, as far as we are aware, no trap has yet been produced that is 100% guaranteed to avoid catching innocent victims.

TYPES OF TRAPPING
There are 4 different types of trapping. The objectives are different, the logistics are different, the execution is different, the outcomes are different, and its important not to confuse them.  They are:

  • Spring queen trapping for queens emerging from hibernation.
  • Monitoring trapping throughout the season.
  • Decoy trapping in an apiary under attack.
  • Bait stations during track and trace for locating nests.

SPRING TRAPPING FOR QUEENS EMERGING FROM HIBERNATION
The purpose of spring trapping is to catch and kill queens newly emerged from hibernation at a time when they are most vulnerable. At this stage, the foundress queen is the head of a single parent family, and she has to forage to provide food for herself and for her young brood.  The theory is that if they are caught and killed at this stage, they can’t go on to develop their own colonies.
Apart from other dangers when she is out of the nest, the attrition rate amongst queens emerging from hibernation is very high due to fierce, deadly competition between them for nest sites. The period over which queens wake up from their winter sleep is long, and those coming out later enjoy warmer weather, a richer diet and are therefore bigger, stronger and more fertile. For every queen you kill another, better queen will always be waiting to replace her.
An organised spring trapping operation involves a substantial logistic organisation of material, personnel and of course cost.
The spring trapping of foundress queens, in a clearly defined area, can reduce the number of nests, but only:

  • if Asian Hornets nests were found in that area in the previous year
  • and were still active in the autumn when the young, mated queens, were produced.

Most queens hibernate within 200 metres of their original nest.  It’s essential that spring trapping operations should only focus on areas where there was already a nest, and which was not removed before gynes could have emerged.
Foundress queens are known to forage up to 1km from the embryo or primary nest, but in practice a radius of 600 metres is more likely as they don’t want to leave their eggs or larvae for very long. Therefore, selective traps are placed in a regular pattern round the old nests.
Traps should be put out in February  when daytime temperatures average 12 deg C, and removed at the end of May, a total of about 14 weeks.
In most areas it involves the cooperation of local authorities, and in all cases permission to access land and property every week for 14 weeks.
A  typical spring trapping operation would consist of:

  • a network of more than 200 traps
  • spread evenly over 10 km2
  • Placed in an even grid-like pattern 
  • Intervals of 350 metres and no more than 500 metres between them
  • At least once weekly visit to empty and renew bait.
  • Over 4 successive springs

For reference, the oft-quoted spring trapping campaign organised by the Government of Guernsey involved the placing of 260 traps on the island. The latest report can be viewed at:

https://www.gov.gg/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=163839&p=0

IN  HAMPSHIRE IN 2023 THERE WERE NO KNOWN ACTIVE NESTS IN THE AUTUMN WHEN GYNES ARE RELEASED INTO HIBERNATION.  AS FAR AS WE KNOW THERE IS NOTHING TO CATCH, THEREFORE SPRING TRAPPING IN 2024 IN HAMPSHIRE IS NOT APPROPRIATE.

MONITORING TRAPPING FOR BLOW-INS OR HITCHHIKERS
Instead, closed monitoring traps should be put out randomly throughout the County in places where they can be checked every day, for example outside a kitchen or office window.  Family members, friends, neighbours, and colleagues can all be recruited to help. They can be checked at the end of the day and don’t need to be watched all the time.
Once an Asian Hornet has been caught in a trap, enhanced surveillance is put in place by the NBU or local AHAT using open bait stations to find and destroy the nest.
Monitoring for possible Asian Hornets and getting our bees Fit2Fight, is where our attention and energies should be focussed in spring 2024.

DECOY TRAPS DURING PREDATION IN THE APIARY
Traps can be deployed in the apiary to reduce the level of stress on the bees but not until hornets are actually present and hawking in front of the hives.
If there’s no hawking taking place, traps in the apiary will only serve to attract hornets to it.
Once hornets are visiting, the NBU or local AHAT will set up bait stations to start the process of tracking and tracing the nest.

BAIT STATIONS
These are simple handmade devices using everyday domestic items that are used during track and trace operations.  They are only used when operations are in progress.

SUMMARY

  • Spring trapping campaigns are not appropriate in Hampshire in 2024 and would be a serious waste of time and money.
  • Monitoring traps should be deployed at random from February onwards to detect Asian Hornet queens that have blown in on the wind or hitched a lift.
  • Once hornets are found in the monitoring traps, bait stations can be set up to begin track and trace to find the nest.
  • Decoy kill  traps are installed in an apiary once predation has started to reduce stress on the bees, and bait stations set up to find where they live.

In addition to monitoring for Asian Hornets, beekeepers are encouraged to focus their energy on sharpening up their beekeeping skills and getting their bees Fit2fight in case we have incursions next year.

Alan Baxter
https://www.alanbaxtersblogs.co.uk