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A metabarcoding tool to detect predation of the honeybee Apis mellifera and other wild insects by the invasive Vespa velutina


The invasive Vespa velutina has been widely referred as an effective predator of honeybees. Despite the potential risk to pollination services provision and honey production, there is no accurate quantification and assessment of its real consequences for honeybees. To date, the identification of the honeybee and other insects in the diet of V. velutina has been investigated by direct observation of adult foraging or examination of food pellets. To overcome these limitations, in this study we used a DNA metabarcoding approach to evaluate the usefulness of different types of sample (jaws and stomachs collected from workers and larval faecal pellets taken from the hornet comb) to investigate the predation of V. velutina upon honeybees, and potentially on other insects. Honeybee DNA was identified in all types of samples, but larval faecal pellets retrieved the higher number of reads of honeybee DNA and the largest diversity at all taxonomic levels. Over all samples we could identify 4 orders, 9 families, 6 genera and 1 species of prey. We estimate that collecting 6 workers is sufficient to identify honeybee predation by a colony using worker’s jaws. Stomachs were the least useful sample type to detect honeybee DNA. The presence of honeybee DNA in all analysed colonies irrespective of collection site, and the variety of insect orders detected in the diet support current concerns over the acknowledged negative impact of V. velutina on managed honeybees and its potential threat to pollination services provision.

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Data with the total number of reads per sample with the respective identification are available on Supporting Information.


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We would like to thank Nativa association and to Graça Oliveira, for the help provided in sample collection. We are grateful to Diana Castro for laboratory assistance, and to Bastian Egeter and Pedro Silva for the helpful suggestions in the bioinformatics pipeline.


Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT Portugal) provided financial support through the project UIDB/00329/2020 granted to cE3c. M.J.V (PD/BD/128351/2017), R.G. and H.R. (contract under DL/2016), R.G.R (CEECIND/01087/2018) and L.G.C. (LISBOA-01–0145-FEDER-028360/EUCLIPO) were funded by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT). L.G.C. was also funded by the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq. Universal 421668/2018–0; PQ 305157/2018–3). Laboratory work was supported by PTDC/BIA-ECO/31731/2017. The funding sources had no direct involvement in the study design, or in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data.

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Correspondence to Maria João Verdasca.

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Communicated by Jay Rosenheim.

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Verdasca, M.J., Godinho, R., Rocha, R.G. et al. A metabarcoding tool to detect predation of the honeybee Apis mellifera and other wild insects by the invasive Vespa velutina. J Pest Sci 95, 997–1007 (2022).

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  • Apis mellifera
  • Diet analysis
  • DNA metabarcoding
  • Invasive species
  • Taxon-specific primers
  • Vespa velutina