Beekeepers now have a weapon to counter the Asian hornet, a new invasive honeybee pest that is threatening honey bee colonies across Europe.
ApiShield, just launched by Vita (Europe) Ltd, has been designed specifically to trap the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina). The trap doesn’t require any bait or chemicals and beekeepers can easily incorporate it into existing husbandry routines.
The Asian hornet is native to China, but arrived in a pottery consignment in Bordeaux, France in 2004. Since then they have devastated honey bee colonies in many parts of France and have already spread into Belgium, NW Spain, N Portugal and Italy and might reach the UK at some point in the future.
The hornets’ mode of attack is highly organized. In the summer a few hornets terrorize honeybee colonies by picking them off one by one as they return to the hive. Faced with this threat, the honeybees eventually stay home for safety, but then weaken by starvation. At the end of the season more hornets arrive and swoop en masse to invade the hive and consume the bees and the hive stores.
Native honeybees have no defense against the marauding hornets. Removing nests is usually impractical because, although very large, they are built high in trees and do not become easily visible until leaf fall in Autumn when the damage to honeybee colonies has been done.
ApiShield, the new trap from Vita, lures hornets into a trap in the bottom of the beehive. The trap, which acts as a base for a hive, has a modified front entrance for the honey bees and decoy side entrances that attract the Asian hornet and other flying honey bee pests. The hornets try to enter the hive by the unguarded side entrances, but become trapped in the false bottom, and then dehydrate and die. The beekeeper simply removes the dead hornets as required.
Dr Max Watkins, Technical Director at Vita, explained how the trap foils invaders, but not the hive’s inhabitants: “The hive’s honey bees don’t use the decoy side entrances because when the base is first installed the side entrances are blocked and the bees quickly learn to use the proper front entrance. They then guard the front entrance in their usual way. The side entrances are then opened.
“Asian hornets, wasps and even robber bees wanting to invade the hive find the front entrance guarded and opt for the undefended decoy side entrances. The hornets can smell the bees through the side entrances but when they enter they cannot reach them because of the wire mesh floor above them. The hornets are trapped and cannot exit because of the funnel design of the decoy entrances. They dehydrate and die and can be easily removed by the beekeeper.”
The trap, invented under the name of Apiburg® by Professor Michael Ifantidis in Greece, has been rigorously tested in France and Greece where hornets are already decimating honey bee colonies.
Although designed specifically to trap the Asian hornet, field trials have proved it to be very effective in catching other honey bee pests and predators including many wasps, wax moth and other types of hornet. Robber bees, often the cause of transmitting Varroa or other disease between hives, also get fooled into using the trap entrances. In addition, ApiShield can act as a varroa screen to measure mite infestation levels.
Dr Watkins added: “The ApiShield trap is elegant, simple, and requires little maintenance. Its proven efficacy goes far beyond protection against the Asian hornet. Even before the Asian hornet arrives in a region, it will be worthwhile installing a trap to act as an early-warning sentinel. At the end of the season, a trap is especially effective in trapping Asian hornet queens seeking winter shelter — trapped queens in autumn reduce the population for the following season thereby acting as a severe brake on the hornet’s advance.”
Unlike bait traps, ApiShield does not trap non-target pollinators such as flies and butterflies. ApiShield is also far more effective than bait traps and does not require bait replenishment — ever-present honey bee pheromones act as the bait.
Apishield is now available for all major hive types including British National, Dadant and Langstroth. Currently available in hard-wearing pine wood, a polystyrene version is also planned for the near future.