Some stories sometimes draw a lot of attention. I recently found about the latest fashioned biological invasion overseas, Vespa velutina. This Panasian hornet species, which flies from India to China, seems to have recently been established in Southern France and is apparently invading the country very fast (or is it that people actually do pay more attention to this today and also have more easily access to information allowing identification, thus enabling a more efficient cartography?).
This species didn’t really get studied in the mainstream scientific litterature and information is scarce. We learn that another species names was attributed to this entity (under the sweet name of Vespa auraria) which was recently arranged into synonymy with V. velutina , we thus had two names for a unique species, though Vespa auraria had even less been studied. Let’s note however that two sub-species are described, as illustrated at this site.
This hornet species is a bee predator, so that people are more afraid. If one adds the greater awareness concerning the “pollination crisis” (pollinators are rarer and rarer in natural landscapes and pollination service decreases, which leads to a subsequent decrease in fruitset, sometimes it may be related to an epidemic problem for Apis mellifera, though this is a problem concerning all pollinator species).
We know that in the two Eurasian bee species, one (Apis cerana) is more prone to defend the hive efficiciently against these hornets  (most attacks simply occur as flight embushes but sometimes hive assault happens instead of simple predator/prey aggressions), but in this case foraging decrease significantly. No difference in foraging behaviour was detected with the main domestic bee species Apis mellifera. This may change in the coming years nevertheless whenever the frequency of these interactions increase due to the recent invasion…
We can also add to these a study about the venom composition of Vespa velutina with other wasps , and the description of an hospitalization just following an atack from a swarm  (don’t be scared, this kind of accident will certainly not be more frequent than that occuring with our indigenous species V. crabro, moreover this anaphylactic shock was caused by at least 200 stinks, and Vespa velutina venom does not differ much from other wasp venoms  ).
Apart than this, not a single study easy to retrieve. However, the press and internet seem to favour a high level alert. Off course, our brave little bees will have to endure another new threat, adding to the already long list of potential scary dangers. Despite all of this, we can hardly predict an actual ecological disaster. Indeed, those hornets may have been introduced for a few years without us to notice earlier.
The incredibly fast invasion did not lead to an alert from beekeepers, but when the first entomological note about the invader was published… . But claims that our indigenous species is going to be driven to extinction by the invading hornet are difficult to believe: the ecological niches of these two species are not the same, given that they prey on very different insects, or that their nesting habits are indeed very different…
So to say, I find that this situation is probably more going to translate into an increase of biodiversity in France, which I tend to think is a good thing. Welcome to Vespa velutina!
- Nguyen, L.T.P., Saito, F., Kojima, J.-I., and J.M. Carpenter. 2006. Vespidae of Viet Nam (Insecta: Hymenoptera) 2. Taxonomic notes on Vespinae. Zoological Science, 23 (1), pp. 95-104.
- Ken, T., Hepburn, H.R., Radloff, S.E., Yusheng, Y., Yiqiu, L., Danyin, Z., and P. Neumann. 2005. Heat-balling wasps by honeybees. Naturwissenschaften, 92 (10), pp. 492-495.
- Shi, W.-J., Zhang, S.-F., Zhang, C.-X., and J.-A. Cheng. 2003. Cloning and comparative analysis of the venom prepromelittin genes from four wasp species. Acta Genetica Sinica 30 (6), pp. 555-559.
- Chao, S.-C., and Y.-Y. Lee. 1999. Acute rhabdomyolysis and intravascular hemolysis following extensive wasp stings. International Journal of Dermatology 38 (2), pp. 135-137.
- Jean Haxaire, Jean-Pierre Bouguet et Jean-Philippe Tamisier. 2006. Vespa velutina Lepeletier, 1836, une redoutable nouveauté pour la faune de France (Hym., Vespidae), Bulletin de la Société Entomologique de France, 111 (2): 194.