The Chef and his Stinger of a Christmas Gift

Guillaume Larive, a chef from Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle (southwest of Bordeaux) thought he had a great idea for a family Christmas present, carefully trimming and wrapping an “empty” hive of Asian hornets he set it before the tree and waited for Christmas Day.

The Christmas present that stirred up a hornets nest

He had, he told Le Post newspaper, removed the nest from a tree cut down in the garden during the recent great winter freeze and was sure it was empty because of an Internet report he read, which claimed the Asian pests would never survive in subzero temperatures.

As it turned out efficient home heating in the Larive family sitting room thawed out a handful of hibernating hornets … provoking un-Santa-like panic.

Apparently shortly after the family sat down to unwrap presents showering appropriate oohs and aahs on Guillaume’s unusual gift — a 75 x 50cm hornet nest cross section in all its intricate chewed- wood-fibre-solidified-saliva glory — several poisonous pests popped sluggishly out of the nest.

“At first they moved slowly. But then they began to wind up wing power,” Larive said. Didn’t take long before there was a war in the sitting room eventually leaving 40 hornets slain and some 200 live larvae destroyed inside the nest. Needless to say the rest of Christmas rather took a back seat.

As for M Larive well he says he won’t take everything he reads on the Internet as gospel in the future, sound advice backed up by a good friend and specialist bee keeper.

The friend recounted a similar experience in 2009 when “a colleague found to his chagrin, that a nest of hornets can still be occupied in winter. There are two kinds of hornets in the nest, the workers who die when cold weather arrives and the ‘parents’. These are females fertilized in the fall and who host the sperm that will enable them to lay eggs every day from March to August of the year ahead. In general, they will leave the nest at the approach of winter to take refuge in a warm place: under the eves or in a stable … “, the friend said.

Guillaume Larive said there were a number of nests in his neighbourhood when he knocked down the tree bearing his Christmas payload. Despite the sharp drop in temperatures across France in early December, the region did not have a sustained period of extreme cold in the run up to Christmas and this enabled the hornets to survive.

Following the Christmas gift adventure father and son went out on a recce and found no fewer than twenty nests , some of an impressive size, clinging to trees within a one km radius of the family home.

Having learnt their lesson the two men are now encouraging everyone they come across to be very cautious about the Asian predators.

Meanwhile Jean-Michel Tissanié, Mayor of Gan (64290) the village where the family live, told the newspaper: “This (Asian hornet problem) is starting to be costly for the local authority. The nests are often located very high up and individuals unable to remove them have to call in private contractors specialized in hornet removal. Here in Gan the budget for fighting hornets is increasing almost tenfold each year. The hornet problem has grown to such an extent that a local police officer has been appointed to deal specifically with combating the plague that first hit France in 2006.”

The video below shows a home-made Asian Hornet trap in operation:

The fearsome bee predator is spreading throughout the Southwest of France at a worrying rate. In the region beekeeping associations are hoping that traps, manufactured by CAT ALPHA Idron and still in the experimental stage, will prove effective against the plague which is in danger of wiping out France’s bee population. Twenty-nine of the country’s 100 départements are currently affected by the hornet which constantly and aggressively searches for protein.

The traps contain either a bait consisting of beer and cassis, melted wax or old fermented honey: two types of traps are placed side by side on the same site or alternatively each test site is equipped with a different type, an arrangement designed to produce data about their effectiveness.

More details on the hornet traps here
Some 15000 traps are being made by Centre d’Aide par le Travail de Gironde – le CAT de Villambisà CISSAC-MEDOC – Tel : 05 56 73 90 90 – in cooperation with Association Action Anti Frelon Asiatique. The association’s website here offers useful addresses.

Experimental Asian hornet trap in use in the southwest of France

The video clip below in French, reports on the invasion, its steady progression and the deepening concerns of the nation’s beekeepers.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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