Warnings have been issued after Asian hornets were spotted in the UK.
The invasive species pray on native honey bees and can damage the ecological role they play, as well as disrupting commercial beekeeping.
The National Bee Unit said a sighting of the insects had been recorded in Rayleigh, Essex.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said work is already underway to monitor the hornet activity and identify any nests nearby.
Three Asian Hornets confirmed in Rayleigh in Essex after they were found by BBKA Asian Hornet Action Team (AHAT) member & captured. It comes a month after a confirmed sighting of a single hornet in Chelmsford a few miles north of Rayleigh #bees #beekeeping https://t.co/CKAcRer2hK
— BBKA (@britishbee) September 28, 2022
The insects – not to be confused with Asian giant hornets – are generally only aggressive towards people when they perceive a threat to their nest.
They are smaller than the native hornet and pose no greater risk to human health than native wasps and hornets.
Asian hornets, which have a mostly black abdomen and characteristic yellow legs, were first spotted in the UK in September 2016 in Gloucestershire.
Nicola Spence, Defra’s chief plant and bee health officer, said: “By ensuring we are alerted to possible sightings as early as possible, we can take swift and effective action to stamp out the threat posed by Asian hornets.
“That’s why we are working at speed to locate and investigate any nests in the area following this confirmed sighting
“While the Asian hornet poses no greater risk to human health than other wasps or hornets, we recognise the damage they can cause to honey bee colonies and other beneficial insects.”
Ms Spence added that members of the public who spot Asian hornets should report the sighting online or through the Asian Hornet Watch app.
The Essex sighting is the first confirmed one of the insects in the country since April 2022, when a single Asian hornet was captured in Felixstowe, Suffolk.
The costs of eradicating the invasive species on private land will be met by the Animal and Plant Health Agency.