Growing population of killer hornets threatens honey bees, beekeepers warn

An “alarming increase” in the population of oriental hornets is taking its toll on honey bees and beekeepers are calling for action to control killer wasps.

The Maltese Bee Conservation Coalition said the spread of the eastern hornet, which is native to the Maltese islands, and increase in population size has been significant in recent years.

The oriental hornet is reddish-brown in color with a distinctive yellow discoloration on the head and abdomen. It begins to appear around May until October. The hornet has an aggressive temperament and is also a predator that can kill insects like grasshoppers and bees.

“This increase in numbers and the spread of the Eastern Hornet is a threat to beekeeping and our communities,” the beekeepers’ coalition said in a letter to the Environmental Resources Authority which was copied to Ministries of Agriculture and the environment.

Concerns stem from hornet attacks on honey bee colonies. They warn that the hostile presence of hornets leads to the death of young bees, a consequent drop in honey bee populations thus reducing the amount of honey produced each year. Beekeepers argue that the tendency of honey bees to protect themselves by staying inside their respective boxes rather than going out and collecting nectar also endangers the preservation of natural habitats due to a lack of pollination.

Beekeepers are calling for a coordinated effort to reduce the population size of oriental hornets, which they say has become a pest.

The growth in the eastern hornet population has been attributed to increased urbanization, which provides habitats and food on which the wasps thrive, as well as to climate change.

In a statement on Wednesday, Nationalist Party agriculture spokesman Toni Bezzina called on the government to heed the warnings.

He called for a “holistic plan” to control the oriental hornet population so that the domestic honey-making industry can thrive.

In comments to MaltaToday two years ago, pest exterminator Arnold Sciberras warned that the spread of the eastern hornet in Malta was increasing. This year alone, 3,766 oriental hornet nests have been recorded, each with populations varying between 30 and around 400 hornets.

“It can kill large insects like grasshoppers and the very beneficial honey bee. Some have also been recorded attacking bird and mouse nests. The hornet can sometimes be seen stalking public spaces for human food,” Sciberras said.

The pest exterminator also warned of the hornet’s very painful sting, with sting victims being urged to seek medical attention. Hives rash, facial swelling and difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and wheezing may occur. Victims also reported low blood pressure and rapid heartbeat.

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