Distribution, spread, and impact of the invasive hornet Vespa velutina in South Korea.
Hornets (Vespa spp.) are top insect predators that can control pests, but their venomous stings and defensive behavior cause numerous human deaths throughout Asia. Hornets usually inhabit rural areas which reduces potential conflict with humans. In 2003, the invasive hornet, Vespa velutina, arrived in southern Korea (Yeongdo region) and became established. It is currently spreading northwards at a rate of 10-20 km per year. Despite originating in tropical/subtropical areas of Indo-China, its nesting biology and life cycle in South Korea are similar to those found throughout its native range, with mature colonies containing 1000-1200 adults. In 7 years, V. velutina has become the most abundant hornet species in Southern Korea by displacing native Vespa species such as V. simillima, which has a similar nesting biology. We also found a significant positive correlation between the abundance of V. velutina and the degree of urbanization, indicating that this invasive species was well adapted to urban environments. This was supported by our finding that 41% of emergency call-outs (119 Rescue Services) to deal with social wasps/hornet problems were due to V. velutina, which was twice as high as the number of calls about the next most abundant species. The rapid spread of V. velutina across southern Korea indicates that this species will continue to spread north-westward in the Korean peninsula and will become a major problem as more people and beekeepers come into contact with this aggressive invasive hornet.