People have been warned to be alert to the risk of Asian hornet nests that are low or on the ground, after a 70-year-old farmer died last week in western France after being attacked by a swarm.
The farmer, from the south of Charente, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, was working in a field on his tractor, when he was attacked by a swarm of the insects on November 6.
Gendarmes investigating the case said that the farmer had accidentally disturbed and damaged a nest that was either on the ground or at the bottom of a hedge.
The nest was “not high up”, the gendarmerie said.
The farmer was able to call out to someone nearby who called the emergency services, but by the time help arrived, he was already unconscious and unable to be revived. The cause of death was anaphylactic shock.
Asian hornets can become very aggressive if their nest is approached or damaged.
The nests can be found near the bottom of hedges or on the ground, making them even more dangerous due to their accessibility to humans, and also because they may be more difficult to see.
While deaths and attacks are rare, they are increasing across France as the insects become more common. Asian hornets first arrived in France in around 2004, and have now spread nationwide.
Although their venom is not more powerful than that of normal bees or wasps, they are known to be more aggressive and one insect can sting several times in a row.
This can affect the human nervous system and heart, and cause fatal anaphylactic shock in allergic people.
Deaths have been reported in recent years in Gironde in August 2019, and in Charente-Maritime in 2015.
The hornets can also damage beehives and kill bees, damaging honey stocks and destroying the native ecosystem.