Sussex beekeepers are bracing for the arrival of a killer hornet which could destroy their bee colonies. And this is the time of year when the threat is greatest.
The Sussex Beekeepers Association says that Asian hornet queens emerge from hibernation in early spring, needing five days at 12 degrees as a wake-up call.
Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) destroy honey bee colonies by hanging around en masse outside beehives, then grabbing and eating bees as they emerge.
However, says the association, Asian hornets are not especially aggressive to humans – no more so than wasps.
So Sussex beekeepers have committed themselves to setting up monitoring traps over the next few weeks to combat this menace.
When an Asian hornet is identified, it will be reported to the authorities, who will then decide what action needs to be taken – including the identification and the destruction of any nests.
Voracious feeders, Asian hornets are now established in France and have a toehold in the Channel Islands.
Occasional Asian hornets have also been found in the UK over the last year, the closest to home being two individuals spotted at Dungeness last October.
The association says that beekeepers believe their arrival is inevitable and imminent.
The Asian hornet is easy to spot.
It is not especially big and is not stripy, so it looks nothing like an ordinary wasp.
It has a yellow head, yellow legs, and an orange stripe on the fourth segment of its abdomen, the rest of which is black.
An Asian hornet app is available to help with identification, and runs on both Android and iPhone.
If members of the public believe they have spotted an Asian hornet, they should photograph it and send the photo to any beekeeper, who will be able to identify it.
Alternatively, send it to Manek Dubash, Asian Hornet Co-ordinator for the Brighton & Lewes Beekeepers Association at email.
The Sussex Beekeepers Association says that Honey bees are under threat as never before.
Beekeepers, both amateur and commercial, are battling against the multi-pronged threats of pesticides, habitat and forage destruction, and invasive parasites (such as Varroa destructor).
Honey bees are key pollinators for a vast range of plants, including many on which we all depend.
Asian hornets are a new threat which could tip many honey bee colonies over the edge, making them unviable.
Asian hornet nests can contain up to 6,000 individuals.
Each nest can generate 200 or more new queens from a single nest, each with the potential to create a new nest of its own, although most queens do not survive.