Electronic radio tags could be used to track invasive Asian Hornets and stop them colonising the UK and killing our honeybees, new research shows. 

Scientists from the University of Exeter attached tiny tags to Asian hornets, then used a tracking device to follow them to their nests at two sites in SW France and Jersey where Asian hornets are well-established. 

The tags led researchers to 5 previously undetected nests. 

Lead researcher, Dr Peter Kennedy, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on the University of Exeter's Penryn campus in Cornwall said:

"Our new method of tracking offers a really important tool to tackle the spread of this invader, providing an efficient means of finding hornet nests in urban, rural and wooded environments."

You can read the full paper here: 


The work was funded by Defra as part of preparation for future outbreaks of the Asian Hornet in the UK and also by South West Beekeepers. 

Nicola Spence, Defra Deputy Director for Plant and Bee Health, said: "This work is key for ensuring a rapid response to Asian Hornets when sightings are confirmed, and, in future, bee inspectors will be able to use this technique to take swift action."

Dr Denis Thiery from INRA Bordeaux-Aquitaine in France, who collaborated on this study, said: "In France, the Asian Hornet is unlikely to be eliminated, so efforts are now focused more on limiting their impact."  

Willie Peggie, Director of the States of Jersey Department of the Environment, where the technique was also tested, said: 'We are pleased to be investigating efficient methods of tracking Asian Hornets to their nest as we're concerned about their impact on our wild insect pollinators, as well as their effect on local honey production." 

Smallest radio tags

The researchers used the smallest radio tags available - made by UK firm Biotrack Ltd - and attached them to hornets with sewing thread. Hornets were able to carry them as long as the tag weighed less than 80% of the insect's weight. 

Adult Asian Hornets "hawk" at beehives, meaning that they hover around the entrance to grab foraging bees and taking them back to their nests to feed larvae.

This short film put together by Dr Peter Kennedy shows how the tracking works:


The BBKA has welcomed the development of a reliable technique for tracking this invasive predator. President, Margaret Murdin, said: "The BBKA new greatly concerned about the possible incursion by the Asian Hornet because of the devastation likely to be caused to honeybees and other pollinating insects." 

The first Asian Hornet nest discovered and destroyed in Britain was in Gloucestershire in 2016. Another nest was found in a hedge in Woolacombe in Devon last year. In April this year, a single hornet, was found in a cauliflower in Lancashire. 

Asian Hornets are smaller than native European hornets, have a largely dark brown or black body and yellow-tipped legs, a distinctive orange-yellow strip near the end of their abdomen and ofter a thin orange-yellow line just behind the "waist". Their face is orange and the back of the head is black, unlike the European hornet in which both face and back of head are yellow. 

Any suspected sighting of an Asian Hornet, should be reported, ideally with a photo, via email to [email protected] or by using the Asian Hornet Watch App.