Asian hornets by Sandra Rojas-Nossa – University of Exeter

Bumblebees have top-tier combat skills when targeted by Asian hornets, reveals new research.

Buff-tailed bumblebees drop to the ground when hornets attack—carrying the pests down with them, according to the findings.

Hornets lose their grip as they drop, or the bee raises its sting and fights until the hornet gives up.

“Stunned” scientists at University of Exeter witnessed 120 attacks that took the same course, with the bee triumphing each time.

The invasive pests, also known as yellow-legged hornets, have already invaded large portions of mainland Europe and parts of east Asia and have for the first time been spotted in the US. Sightings in the UK and mainland Europe are at an all-time high this year—but people are fighting back, fearing for pollinators such as bees.

“With honey bees, the hornets do something called ‘hawking’—hovering outside the bees’ nest and attacking returning foragers as they fly past,” said Dr. Thomas O’Shea-Wheller at the University of Exeter.

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“(But) we recorded hornets doing the same thing to bumblebees, but with the surprising difference that in our observations, they were entirely unsuccessful.”

“Although the attacks we witnessed at colony entrances were unsuccessful, defending against such attacks is likely energetically costly,” said Dr. O-Shea-Wheller, whose team published the study in Communications Biology. “And when hornet abundance is high, this could be a major problem for bees out foraging.

“Hornets also consume nectar from flowers, meaning they compete directly with bees for food and harass them at flower patches.

The team placed commercially reared colonies of buff-tailed bumblebees, Bombus terrestris, in 12 locations across the province of Pontevedra, Spain, with varying densities of Asian hornets.

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