An unwelcome arrival.
While the so-called “murder hornet” does not pose a risk in Florida or most parts of the U.S., at least three new specimens have turned up in North America in 2020. The presence of these Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia) were all documented in the Pacific Northwest. Two in Washington State were queens. One had already mated, according to the state’s agriculture department. One of these big, orange-and-black insects was found dead in a roadway near Custer, Washington. Sven Spichiger, an insect specialist with Washington’s Department of Agriculture, confirmed on May 29 that the body was that of an Asian giant hornet. It had probably hatched last year, he says. This queen was likely out to create a new colony. The second queen turned up wiggling on somebody’s porch near Bellingham, Wash. The person stepped on it and reported it June 6. On May 15, scientists in Canada confirmed their first giant hornet sighting of 2020 in Langley, British Columbia.
V. mandarinia ranks as the world’s largest hornet. Queens can grow some five centimeters (two inches) long, about the length of an average-sized woman’s thumb. Wingspans can exceed seven centimeters (2.8 inches), not quite the full width of a woman’s palm. Workers are smaller. Most are native to Asia. None are native to North or South America. The latest hornet-identification report lists 22 species. They may be striped or blotched. Their color patterns range from browns and rusts to gold and bluish-blacks.
A serious threat to honeybees.
These oversized hornets are a threat to honeybees and pack a sting few humans would ever forget. This aggressive insect earned its nickname from preying on honeybees. It can swoop down and grab them out of the air. The hornet then carries its prey home to nourish young hornets. A raiding party of several dozen Asian giant hornets can kill a whole hive. The attackers can kill thousands of bees in just a few hours. In such mass attacks, hornets bite the heads off adult bees. Attackers leave the adult bodies in heaps, and then carry off young bees as protein for young hornets. They need meat to feed their young, in contrast to honeybees, which collect plant pollen as protein. Another difference: A honeybee dies after its single-use stinger rips out of its body. Hornets can sting over and over.
First encounters in the U.S.
\In September 2019, beekeepers in Canada tracked down and destroyed a hornet nest in the ground. It was near a public footpath in Nanaimo, near Vancouver. Lone flying hornets also showed up on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. One appeared at a hummingbird feeder near Blaine, Wash. But that wasn’t the Asian giant hornet’s first touchdown on North American soil. California had an overlooked close call in 2016. And it wasn’t just some lone hornet hiding in a cargo container, notes Allan Smith-Pardo, an entomologist for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in Sacramento and the scientist charged nationwide with identifying suspicious wasps or bees found in cargo or mail. A mail inspector had flagged an express package coming into the San Francisco airport. It held some papery honeycomb-like nest. The inspector wondered if someone was smuggling in bees. U.S. rules strictly ban that. (The goal is to keep out diseases and pests that could hurt U.S. bees.) Smith-Pardo identified the package as something dramatic. It was a whole nest of Asian giant hornets. “There were no adults in the package,” he says, “but plenty of pupae and larvae.” A few were still alive. Why would somebody send a nest of hornets? In Asia, “collected adults, pupae and larvae are soaked in liquor,” notes retired entomologist Jung-Tai Chao. Some people believe this “hornet liquor” will ease the pain of arthritis, he explains. The 2016 hornet package was opened in a secure room, so no insects escaped. In the end, that potential insect disaster became no more than a brief notice on page 23 of the May 2020 issue of Insect Systematics and Diversity. But that report looked only at hornets intercepted on U.S. borders during one decade. That means there might have been earlier run-ins with these giants.
The first hornet to try invading North America?
Far from it. V. crabro is another hefty hornet that invaded our shores. It spread into New York from Europe or Asia back in the mid-19th century. Now it can be found in scattered places east of the Rockies. These hornets nest in hollow trees and cozy nooks within walls and can deliver painful stings.
Like the Asian giant hornet, V. crabro attacks honeybees. It can go after bumblebees, too. It may even target yellow jackets and other wasps. Unlike the new invader, however, members of V. crabro hunt alone. Each picks off a bee on a flower or at a hive. It doesn’t gang up for mass elimination of entire colonies.
Other hornets also have turned up in North America without stirring public interest. Between 2010 and 2018, inspectors intercepted four species at U.S. borders. In Canada, just last year, entomologists identified two other invasive hornet species, including V. soror, which is almost as big as the Asian giant. Whether any of these other species will make a permanent home in North America is not known.
Why attack honeybees?
The Asian giant hornet doesn’t actually specialize in honeybees, notes James Carpenter, a hornet specialist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In temperate climates, workers of this species forage alone, often for beetles. But a nesting colony only lasts one year. Toward fall, when the colony’s time is running out, its workers face heavy demands for protein to nurture what will be the next year’s queens. Workers now band together to raid high-value targets. This could include whole nests of honeybees, other types of hornets and yellow jackets.
The giant hornets “slaughter the adults, and then carry back the brood as food for their larvae,” Carpenter explains. “Besides the impact on honeybees, then, they may have an impact on native yellow jackets.”
How bad is the sting?
According to Justin Schmidt at the Southwestern Biological Institute and University of Arizona, a giant hornet’s sting can deliver a lot of venom — some 1,100 micrograms (dry weight). That’s more than seven times as much as some dainty little honeybee delivers. The hornet’s venom also has a pretty strong knockdown power. Based on what venom did to lab animals, researchers say that just one full sting would have a 50 percent chance of killing a decent-sized rodent.
Schmidt has spent decades recording how painful he finds various stings. He has personal data on more than 90 insects, but the Asian giant hornet isn’t one of them. But from talking to colleagues who have been stung, he estimates that the Asian giant hornet’s sting is equivalent to three to 10 yellow jackets stinging at once. That’s painful, but it’s not the end of the world, he concludes. Bullet ant stings, he finds, are roughly 10 times more painful.
A much-quoted number from a 2007 paper puts Japan’s death toll for people stung by V. mandarinia at 30 to 50 people per year. That includes people with allergies to insect venom. Less-quoted parts of this report from Japan point out that of the 15 people hospitalized for stings and discussed in the paper, those with fewer than 50 stings had a good chance of surviving.
A threat in Florida?
If Asian giant hornets ever become a threat in Florida, you can be sure Patrick Exterminating will be on the cutting edge of their elimination, however; we have great faith that our vigilant team of national scientists and inspectors with the Florida Department of Agriculture will prevent that from ever happening.
According to Orlando News 6, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has confirmed that there is no evidence to support that murder hornets are present anywhere in Florida. “With reports of suspected Asian giant hornet sightings in Florida, our department and the USDA have confirmed that there is no evidence of this species in Florida,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said. “Our partners at the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the USDA are continuing to study and contain the Asian giant hornet to Washington State. We have every reason to believe that these ongoing efforts will keep this invasive pest far away from Florida’s residents and 650,000 honeybee colonies.”
Keeping your home free from everyday wasps and hornets…
At Patrick Exterminating, when we perform routine exterior treatments, we keep a keen eye out for hornet and wasp nests and, if found, will eliminate them with a long-range insecticide. We recommend that homeowners routinely inspect the exterior of their home – along with fences, grills and patio furniture – for nesting wasps, and let us know if a nest is sighted. Nests can be established in just a few days. Unlike paper wasps, mud-dauber wasps are not usually dangerous. Mud dauber nests can easily be knocked down by the homeowner; however, if not removed, these structures can become inhabited by more dangerous wasp species.
Bee Removal Services
While honeybees are considered to be the most beneficial of all insect species and honey bee colonies have great economic and environmental value, it is important to know that Africanized honey bees (AHBs) have made their way into the state of Florida. AHBs breed and compete with the European strains of honey bees that normally inhabit our state. While many people classify them as aggressive, their behavior is actually defensive. They react to human invasion of their environment and defend themselves when necessary. Attacks occur when people get too close to a nesting colony. If you find bees nesting on your property, take care not to disturb them. Call us immediately at 772-286-6812 and we will coordinate their removal with a reputable bee specialist.
Sources: Science for Students, Orlando News 6
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