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Oriental hornet specimen in close-up, note the yellow forehead. Sur
Watch out for the oriental hornet on the Costa del Sol: this is where it has already been spotted
Nature

Watch out for the oriental hornet on the Costa del Sol: this is where it has already been spotted

Reports of sightings of this dangerous invasive species are coming in from numerous districts of Malaga city and other coastal towns

Ignacio Lillo

Malaga

Monday, 1 July 2024

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The oriental hornet (not to be confused with the Asian giant hornet, which is much larger and even more aggressive, and of which there is still no record in this area) is already commonplace in a large part of the coastal strip of the province. From the Malaga city districts El Ejido, Olletas, Teatinos and La Luz, to mention only the cases of which SUR is aware, through various municipalities along the Costa del Sol, such as Mijas to Alhaurín de la Torre in the Guadalhorce valley.

This invasive, non-native species can be dangerous, both because they sting people if they feel threatened, and because of their impact on local nature. Most concerning is if they were to enter rural areas and come into contact with bee-hives, as they would hunt the bees to feed their larvae.

"It is more than established here," said Raimundo Real, professor of Zoology at the University of Malaga (UMA). That said, he believes that so far this spring it is being seen less than last year, when there was alarm in several localities due to the presence of numerous specimens. "In winter, due to the drought or other causes, it has not fared as well as it might have done." To this point he added that they have been hatching late this year, around May: "The queens began to fly first, which are very large, almost twice as big as the workers."

The professor explains that the queen is the only part of the hive structure that survives the winter, while the workers and drones die in autumn. "Here it took them a while, it's as if the whole cycle came very late; they lasted almost until winter, when you could still see workers on the beaches, pulling up pieces of fish to take with them to feed the larvae, which are the ones that eat the flesh. The adults feed only on nectar. "It was surprising to see them so late in November," but when winter came, they disappeared.

Mild winter

The new queens, on the other hand, have endured the mild winter hidden in cracks or holes in all sorts of places, already fertilised. Only recently have they emerged, although Raimundo Real once again draws attention to the delay in their doing so compared to the norm. "What was expected was that they would have come out in March; I don't know if it was due to the strange hydrological year, firstly the drought, then the heavy rains around Easter, and then the drought again."

Still, they have finally come out and the public warnings from different parts of the province have begun to be issued. The queens that emerged in May have already laid previously fertilised eggs, which in turn has led to the first worker wasps being seen, in search of meat (they hunt live insects and pick off from animal carcasses, leftover food, etc.) to feed the new larvae. Each queen can have up to 100 and 200 workers, which is why we are seeing more of them now.

This species usually builds its nests in tunnels that they dig out in the ground, but they can also build nests under the roofs of buildings, especially old roof tiles, and even in chimneys. For this reason, the professor recommends that when they are seen in a garden or a street, the authorities should be informed (your local council and local police in the case of cities and large towns, and the Guardia Civil (Seprona) in inland areas and villages), so that they can report them to the specialised services to locate the nest and remove it.

Know your hornets

The 'vespa orientalis', oriental wasp or oriental hornet is an exotic species, native to the eastern Mediterranean (Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, etc.), as well as North Africa, although it has been established in Malaga province for at least the last three years. The theory surrounding its arrival in Spain is that some specimens came along with a shipment of nursery plants from a country where it is endemic. It can be distinguished from the only hornet native to Spain (European hornet, vespa crabro) and other exotic species that are arriving because it has a yellow forehead and a spot of the same colour almost at the end of its abdomen.

If you see them, do not disturb them because they can be dangerous. Their sting is poisonous, and a single specimen can sting several times. Moreover, they defend themselves in a group, so the release of toxins can cause anaphylactic shock, as happened to one local resident in Marbella two years ago. The sting of an oriental hornet is very painful, although it does not require any special treatment. However, you should go to an accident and emergency department if you suspect you might be allergic to its venom or if you have been stung several times, as that could lead to a severe reaction.

The nests are not individually built, but form a colony with dozens or even hundreds of individuals. These clusters are smaller than those of the so-called Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) and they are also less dangerous. There is still no evidence of the dreaded Vespa velutina in Malaga, although there is evidence in the north of Spain.

No one should risk removing a nest, as the stingers can penetrate the protection normally provided by a beekeeper's suit, and they will attack as a group to defend their colony. On an ecological level, the key is to manage their presence in urban areas to avoid their expansion and conquest of rural areas where they will cause far more damage to the ecosystem by attacking the hives of honey bees.

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