A non-native hornet species that preys on honeybees has been found in the United States for the first time, raising concerns about the nation’s bee population. The yellow-legged hornet, a relative of the infamous Asian giant hornet or "murder hornet," was discovered in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Agriculture. This invasive species could pose a serious threat to honey production, agriculture, and native pollinators if it becomes established in the country.
Honeybees play a vital role in pollinating crops and contribute at least $18 billion to the value of American agriculture. However, they are already facing multiple threats, including parasites, pests, pathogens, inadequate nutrition, exposure to pesticides, and climate change. The arrival of the yellow-legged hornet adds to these challenges, as it is a skilled predator of honeybees. Efforts are now underway to trap, track, and eradicate the hornets in Georgia, with the Georgia Department of Agriculture urging residents to report any sightings.
Non-Native Hornet Species Detected in the United States, Poses Threat to Bees
The Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) has announced the discovery of a non-native hornet species, the yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina), in the wild in the United States. This is the first time that this species has been identified in the country, and it could potentially pose a threat to the nation’s bees. The yellow-legged hornet is a relative of the Asian giant hornet, also known as the "murder hornet," which is notorious for its destructive impact on honeybees.
The yellow-legged hornet, nicknamed the "bee hawk," is a fearsome predator of honeybees. It is highly agile and can capture honeybees both in the air and from the front of their hives. If the species establishes itself in the U.S., it could endanger honey production, agriculture, and native pollinators. The hornet constructs egg-shaped nests above ground, often in trees, and these nests can grow to large sizes, housing around 6,000 worker hornets.
The yellow-legged hornet is native to tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia. However, it has become an invasive species in many parts of Europe, the Middle East, and other regions in Asia where it is not native. Its detection in Georgia raises concerns about the potential threat it poses to honeybees in the U.S., which are already facing numerous challenges.
Managed honeybees play a crucial role in pollinating crops and contribute at least $18 billion to the value of American agriculture. However, honeybees are under pressure from various stressors, including parasites, pathogens, inadequate nutrition, exposure to pesticides, and climate change. One of the most significant threats to honeybee colonies is the Varroa mite, which arrived in the U.S. in the late 1980s and has caused significant colony losses.
Beekeepers in the U.S. have been able to compensate for these losses to some extent, but a survey conducted by the University of Maryland and Auburn University revealed that 48 percent of honeybee colonies were lost in the year leading up to April 1, the second-highest death rate on record.
The yellow-legged hornet was detected in Georgia after a beekeeper reported an unusual hornet on their property. The identification was confirmed by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The GDA is now collaborating with APHIS and the University of Georgia to trap, track, and eradicate the hornets in Georgia. They are encouraging Georgians to report any sightings of the hornets and have provided a form for this purpose.
While the yellow-legged hornet does not pose a significant risk to humans, caution should be exercised if one is spotted as its sting can be painful. If the hornet is observed in another state or territory, the sighting should be reported to the local department of agriculture.
This discovery highlights the importance of vigilance in monitoring and managing invasive species, as they can have detrimental effects on ecosystems and agricultural systems. Efforts to protect honeybees and other pollinators are crucial for maintaining food security and biodiversity.