After all the warnings and all the alerts, the progress through Portugal of the Asiatic wasp – or killer hornet – appears unstoppable.
The predatory insects are killing bees already threatened by pesticides, mites and climate change, and showing extraordinary powers of adaptability as honey production plummets.
Vespa velutina poses a “threat to biodiversity” and to public health, writes Público, and authorities involved in trying to control the killer bugs complain of “lack of necessary support”.
While nests are being destroyed at a dizzying rate – 13,000 in the last three years – the hornets are relentlessly moving south, and expanding their areas of colonisation.
Research on their habitats used to point to the tops of high trees, but in the decade since they arrived in Europe and spread throughout Spain, France and Portugal, they have been found in low-lying bushes, urban districts, inside people’s homes and in fruit trees.
The scourge which travelled into Portugal via Galicia has reduced northern Portuguese honey production by “around 50%”, while in Spain losses have been recorded as high as 60-70%.
Where it will lead remains to be seen. “It is a grave economic problem,” president of the national federation of beekeepers told Público.
Researcher José Manuel Grosso-Silva has told the paper that he has “no doubt” that the hornet is here to stay, and that the country has to improve mechanisms of control, detection and prevention.
Meantime, the hornets are drawing ever closer to honey-making areas of the Algarve, where they are expected to have arrived in earnest by 2019.
The bugs can spread 100km a year, and they are believed to have caused the deaths of a number of people in France, as well as in China.
Last summer, a 63-year-old man clearing land in Vila Verde, Braga, died after being stung by a swarm of hornets.
The Vespa velutina was understood to have entered Europe “mistakenly packed in a box of pottery”, but other reports refer to a consignment of bonsai wood from China, that arrived in Bordeaux.