In Spain, invasive insect species are a growing problem. This includes the Asian hornet, which has spread at lightning speed over the past year.
In Galicia, this wasp is already even more numerous than the native wasps themselves. And this leads to major health, economic and environmental problems. According to data from the Xunta de Galicia, this insect is 56% more common in 2023 than in 2022. There were as many as over 43,000 reports so far this year, far more than the 27,500 recorded in 2022. In Pontevreda, there is already talk of 10 nests per square metre.
Due to its large presence, the insect has already become “a serious risk to human health” in Galicia because of its bites, which “can cause severe allergic reactions”, explains Xesús Feás, a member of the Academy of Veterinary Medicine and an expert on the species. He researched that between 1999 and 2018, there were 78 deaths in Spain due to stings by hornets, wasps or bees. Of these, 28 were in Galicia.
Economic and environmental problems
The health risks are not the only problem, as it also has a major impact on the economy. This species feeds on 80% of bees. As a result, “honey loss is already around 65% of hives” in places where this wasp is widespread. Consequently, beekeepers have to take measures to protect their hives. This costs nearly €8 million a year.
The fruit sector also suffers from their presence. The biggest effects can already be seen in viticulture, as the wasps eat the grapes. ‘If they don’t eat the whole grape, they leave a wound that can ruin whole bunches of grapes,’ he said.
‘Social unrest is also a factor to consider’ because people are ‘really scared’ when they take to the streets after seeing news about it. Although it is ‘no more aggressive than other species’ because it is everywhere and ‘nests everywhere’, Feás says, the risk of being bitten is higher. Some occupations are also affected, such as forestry or fruit picking.
The Asian hornet is likely to spread throughout Spain. ‘Now it is moving down and is already coming to the front of León and Aragón as well,’ assures Jorge Galván, general director of the National Association of Environmental Health Companies (ANECPLA).He explains that this is due to the fact that it is ‘very adaptable’, having great invasive power because ‘it has no competition’ from other predators. This summer’s temperatures have greatly encouraged the development of this species and have helped other insects to reproduce as well, Feás says.
This problem is also influenced by humans. Globalisation, hand in hand with ‘the transportation of goods’ also contributes to its spread. Galván even compares it to the tiger mosquito, which arrived in Spain in tyres from China.
In addition, living habits affect the spread of these insects, sometimes with very simple actions we don’t even realise. For example, if someone living in Asturias travels to Madrid, they can carry any type of mosquito, wasp or insect in their car. If one of these lays eggs and reproduces, the species in question can become established anywhere. ‘With these trips, we unknowingly move species from one place to another,’ Galván concludes.
Prevention plans necessary
Feás assures that if the government does not take action with new prevention plans, “we will have to learn to live side by side” with this hornet. This way, although eradicating it is ‘very difficult’, it is also not impossible. Therefore, he suggests investing more in ‘genetic engineering techniques or captive care’.’ A management plan is needed, someone to lead the orchestra,’ he concludes.