Google and Wikipedia searches can help locate the Asian hornet and thus initiate intervention protocols

asian wasp, wasp velutina, is a terrifying insect. It measures approximately 30 millimeters, three times longer than a bee, is dark in color and has yellow transverse stripes on its thorax, the nerves of its wings follow a different pattern than that of other species and the stinger does not lose it when stinging. Although wasps mainly attack insects, their stings can be deadly to humans in severe cases.

In 2004, the first presence of wasp velutina in Europe, in the Aquitaine region (France). Since then, the National Museum of Natural History de Paris recorded on a map the nests that exist in that country. This wasp has arrived Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Belgium.

This pest harms the environment and socioeconomic sectors, especially beekeeping. Therefore, the universities of Primorska (Slovenia) and Turin (Italy) analyzed whether citizens are aware of the wasp invasion in Italy.

The research, published in NeoBiota Magazine, was based on surveys of beekeepers and analysis of frequently asked questions on Google search engines and visits to Wikipedia. On the one hand, the results indicate that public awareness has increased years after the wasps were detected in the country and that investors such as beekeepers are aware of this invasion and its social and ecological effects.

The Asian wasp is one of the most voracious predators of bees, which is affecting their population, the pollination of many plants and the production of honey. In addition, in many cases the bees do not leave the hive for fear of being devoured.

To defend themselves, Asian bees have developed a surprising technique: they surround the wasp and beat their wings all at once to increase the temperature until the invader dies of heat or moves away. However, this technique is not as effective in the case of European bees, as the hives are not as crowded and do not reach sufficient temperature.

Despite being enemies of bees, wasps can also act as a natural insecticide, as they feed on insects such as aphids and caterpillars, which cause pests. In addition, they contribute to pollination and in the health area, the development of medicines with their venom is being studied.

Italy is full of wasps

Two projects were launched in Italy to record the presence of this insect and implement the EU’s rapid alert and rapid response system in the invaded area. One of these initiatives is STOPESPA Lifefunded by the European Commission, which lasted from 2015 to 2019. In this project, local and national institutions and beekeepers’ associations developed a monitoring network and emergency plans against Asian hornets.

The other project is STOP VELUTINE, which was subsidized by the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies and the European Union, but since 2016 manages the organization’s own resources. It is a network of research organizations and beekeepers dedicated to stopping the spread of the Asian hornet.

Beekeepers consider that the Asian wasp harms bees more than the Italian wasps crab wasp. They also think that this occupation harms bees more than pesticides, native predatory insects, viral diseases, fungi and bacteria.

In addition, surveys showed that beekeepers became aware of wasps through the internet, specialized magazines or activities with other professionals in their community. However, they did not use traditional media or mailing lists.

On the other hand, Wikipedia recorded 1,000 visits per month about the species with a maximum of 10,000 queries. These numbers suggest that people outside of research and beekeeping have been interested in the establishment of this insect and its consequences.

Likewise, the Google Trends index on the two species by the Italian name increased between 2013 and 2020. In this way, Google Trends can be used to monitor the presence of the Asian wasp in Italy and Spain, as it gives the option to analyze regional-level word searches. In this case, if you explore wasp velutina in an area, they are more likely to have colonized that place.

Google and Wikipedia analyzes would also serve to understand the adaptation of phenology, that is, the life cycle of invasive species and how this affects them as they occupy places displaced by climate change. Google searches increased between April and October, coinciding with the months when the nest is built, when colonies are largest and the public sees wasps. While there may be a correlation between the sighting of these insects and internet searches, it is possible that published news or conservation courses also influence awareness of the problem.

However, as these wasps tend to build their nests in buildings, citizens can mistake them for native species, which makes it possible for the results to be erroneous and it would be necessary to verify their appearance.

The researchers conclude that if public awareness increases, more people will be able to identify invasive wasps in different environments. In addition, early activation of the protocols would prevent possible damage.

Wasps arrive in Spain

In 2011, Asian hornets were seen in Catalonia, the Basque Country and the Canary Islands. Due to this appearance in Spain, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment published Management Strategy, Control and Possible Eradication of the Asian Wasp or Black Wasp (Vespa velutina ssp. nigrithorax) in 2015. The team responsible for this guide used data from Navarre and the Basque Country, where the invasion began in 2010, to eliminate the nests. It is advised to do this in early spring and during the summer because activity is higher and it is more likely to capture the queen. They also recommend removing them before using chemical insecticides.

Some localities have developed their own capture methods. In Concello de Lallín (Galicia) they have been distributing traps to the public for three years and have even uploaded videos to Facebook and YouTube to explain how to build the trap and where to place it. In Asturias, the platform Stop Vespa velutina it also teaches you to recognize them.

REFERENCE

Combining surveys and online research volumes to analyze public awareness of invasive alien species: a case study with the invasive Asian yellow-legged wasp (wasp velutina) In Italy

Photograph: Daniel Solararrieta

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