Any kind of hornet problem in France, and almost anyone starts worrying about whether they're Asian hornets.
There's a species of hornet, a small and unremarkable looking one, called vespa velutina, which was accidentally introduced into south west France from China in 2004 in a shipment of Chinese pottery. Since then they've colonised the Aquitaine region and seem to be spreading, Lesley at Peregrinations, who lives in that neck of the woods, remarked on seeing a lot of them this summer, and caught a goodly number in a classic jam trap.
They are a problem. They like sugar more than European hornets do, though, hence the success of Lesley's jam trap, and hence their success in that region of France: they especially like the prune orchards. ( Vespa crabro will occasionally eat ripe fruit on the tree, but doesn't like anything rotten, fermenting or of human manufacture, so they will not annoy you on picnics or dive into your drink and allow you to try to swallow them.) So they are more drawn to human habitation. They are more adaptable about their nest sites, so will settle closer to us, wherein lies another part of the problem, which is that really, most hornets, even the nastiest, will only really attack us if we are too close to their nests. A new commenter here recently reported getting 20 stings from some hornets when he inadvertently got too close to one - happily he is clearly alive to tell the tale so disproving the urban myth that three stings can kill a man, nevertheless, it's not a position you want to be in. The jury still seems to be out on whether the Asian hornet's sting is more painful than that of a European one; or if they are more defensive and inclined to attack people.
The other unpleasant thing they do is prey on honeybees. Most hornets do to some extent, along with other insects, but the Asian velutina, is a bit more single-minded about it, and stalks hives and attacks the bees as they come and go, carrying them off to feed their young. Once this gets habitual they can do serious damage to a beehive. Poor old honeybees have enough to put up with, what with pesticides and varroa mites and sundry other slings and arrows reducing their numbers, so this is bad news, for bees, beekeepers and the rest of us, who depend on them for pollination of food crops, as everyone knows. Asian honeybees apparently have strategies for fighting back, but European ones haven't got developed these. Additionally, they may compete with the indigenous crabros, perhaps making them more aggressive and/or driving them out.
So, indeed, Asian vespa velutina hornets, who shouldn't really be here, are a genuine problem. Globalisation, stuff being shipped all over the world in large and unregulated quantities, unprecedented movements of people and goods, another consequence of this. It's not the hornets' fault, but that's not to make light of the matter.
There is however, another kind of Asian hornet which has gained notoriety, through articles in the National Geographic and elsewhere, and television programmes. This is the Asian giant hornet, vespa mandarinia. These are truly scary enormous brutes. They are the ones the aforementioned Dr Ono has made it his mission to study and has come to admire, even though it has involved being stung which felt like a hot nail driven into his leg. They live mostly in mountainous regions of Japan, where doughty mountain folk sometimes consider them a delicacy and go to some risk to procure them as such, I suppose rather in the same risk-spiced spirit in which fugu fish is eaten. These are serious predators of honeybees, they attack, invade and lay waste to the hive, tearing the bees to bits at a rapid rate and also pillaging the honey, leaving scenes of carnage behind them. There are plenty of video nasties of these scenes available on the web, there's one here at the National Geographic site. Asian bees and beekeepers have developed strategies to fight against these attacks, but they are fairly horrific.
BUT, these are not the velutina Asian hornets which have established themselves in France - and which may, it is conceivable, eventually make their way across the channel. Site after site of reputable information, those of beekeepers' and their association, the Natural History Museum, etc etc, reiterate this fact.
Yet, another article which is frequently linked to, from Wikipedia and elsewhere, is this one from the Daily Telegraph last year, which mingles facts about the two species, - including the frequent reference to the hot nail through the leg - to give the impression that terrifying and monstrous insects have already invaded France, terrorising hapless tourists (you'd really better not go there...) and laying waste to their honey bee populations, and will very shortly be making their way across the English Channel.
I know, it's all just silly season stuff, and most people would really rather be momentarily sensationalised that learn boring scientific facts, but I really feel it's insidious and disingenuous, however seemingly unimportant. Disingenuous because it's done in such a way that the misreporting is not so glaringly obvious that anyone would pick it up, unlike in another article in the Mail Online, where the inconsistencies are so blatant that they are immediately questioned in the comments.
Why is it permissable to warp, distort and lie about the natural world to an extent which wouldn't be acceptable in any other area? And why are they doing it? Fairly obviously to reinforce the idea that Out There, beyond the safe and cosy confines of Telegraph-reading Little England, are vile, alien murderous elements, and spineless, hapless Europe is grovellingly capitulating to them.
If you don't believe me, or think I'm reading too much into it, have a look at the comments thread, where these kind of glib and fatuous parallels are being made very easily. A euro for every drearily unfunny jibe about the French surrendering would buy me a lot of jars of Marmite, and that's just the beginning of it. Happily for my sanity and sense of personal moral cleanliness, I didn't read them all, but of 139 comments I didn't see many even directly dealing with the actual subject of the hornets, compared with the amount of snarking about immigration, Europe and climate change denial. There are one or two saner voices there too, though I can't imagine why they're bothering.
So don't spend too long there, but rather check out some of the beekeeper's sites, where intelligent and informed people are trying to address the real problem.
Ah me, my rants are very tame. I think this particular personal silly season topic may be drawing to a close very soon. The hornets, the good old-fashioned, home-grown vespa crabros, are tapping at the French doors, time to turn off the lights and go to bed.