How to spot an Asian hornet and what to do if you find one

As it emerges that Asian hornets have survived a UK winter for the first time, here's how to identify them in your garden and what to do.

Asian predatory Hornet (Vespa velutina) on the paving of a country garden terrace in autumn, near Marbache, Lorraine, France
Experts have warned that Asian hornets are already living and breeding in the UK. (Alamy)

The invasive Asian hornets that are posing a deadly threat to the UK's bee population have a distinctive low hum that sends "a chill up the spine", it has been claimed.

A BBC Radio 2 listener named Drew, from Derbyshire, who has a property in France, contacted the Jeremy Vine show on Tuesday to say the hornet makes a "growling" rather than "buzzing" sound.

He told the programme: "You hear this drone noise like a growl, totally different from a bee. When you hear them it does sort of send a chill up your spine. It's like a growl. It's a lot deeper, a bass like sound."

It comes after DNA analysis showed that Asian hornets, which can eat up to 50 bees a day, have survived a British winter for the first time, sparking fears they could remain here permanently.

DNA samples from hornets were collected in traps in Four Oaks in Kent which had been installed by the National Bee Unit.

The samples showed the hornets to be the offspring of a nest that was destroyed in November 2023 in the nearby town of Rye.

Closeup on the Asian yellow legged Hornet wasp,  Vespa velutina, a recently introduced threat to honeybees
Asian hornets feed on honey bees and can cause ecological damage. (Getty)

The British Bee Keepers Association is trying to locate other nests before new Asian hornet queens are produced – a single nest can produce as many as 350 queens.

Master beekeeper Lynne Ingram, of the Somerset Beekeepers Association, told the BBC: "We know that some of the nests we found last year, the queens had already been produced.

"And they leave the nests and go into hibernation for the winter, and they're very difficult to find."

The sting from an Asian hornet, while painful, poses no great threat to humans, but they are deadly to honey bees and other native pollinators.

Asian hornets – not to be confused with Asian giant hornets – are native to Asia but were reportedly spotted in Europe for the first time in south-west France in 2004. They are thought to have come over in a consignment of pottery from China.

They are what is known as an invasive species – an introduced species that becomes overpopulated and harms its new environment. An invasive species can cause ecological, environmental and even economical damage.

Asian hornets prey on native honey bees and can damage the ecological role they play as well as disrupting commercial beekeeping. They are smaller than the native hornet and pose no greater risk to human health than native wasps and hornets.

They are now reported to be established in Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Jersey. They were first spotted in the UK in 2016 and are generally only aggressive towards people when they perceive a threat to their nest.

Asian hornets are smaller than native hornets and measure around 25mm in length, while their queens are larger and are around 30mm in length.

Their abdomens are almost entirely black, with fine yellow stripes and a yellow or orange fourth segment, near the base. They have an orange head and a black or brown thorax.

While they look similar to native hornets, they can be distinguished from by the fact that the ends of their legs – the tips – are yellow. They are active during the day but never at night.

Asian predatory Hornet (Vespa velutina) drinking from a leaf, Jardin des plantes in front of the Museum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris, France
Asian hornets can be identified by their yellow legs and are mainly black with thin yellow stripes – and a larger one at the base of its abdomen. (Getty)

If you think you have spotted an Asian hornet, your first instinct may be to contact a pest control expert. However, it is important that the sighting is officially recorded and reported due to its invasive nature and possible consequences of it breeding.

You should notify the Great British Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) as soon as you spot an Asian Hornet. This can be done through the Asian Hornet Watch app or by filling out the online form.

You can also send details of a suspected sighting to the NNSS by emailing if possible, you should include a photo, the location of the sighting and a description of the insect.

If you have managed to trap what is confirmed to be an Asian hornet, the advice is that it can be killed either by standing on it (in shoes!) or placing it in a freezer for 24 hours. Samples should be kept as they may be needed by authorities after the sighting is reported.

However, it is important to not attempt to trap the insect by yourself, as it should be left to experts using specialist equipment. Once reported to NNSS, the government’s protocol will see professionals sent out to eradicate the insect and its nest, if found.