Should we worry about 'murder hornets' here? This is what S.C. expert says

A "murder hornet"
A "murder hornet"(WRDW)
Published: May. 5, 2020 at 1:25 PM EDT
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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -- Now that the world’s largest hornet has arrived in the United States, the true victims could be honeybees, a South Carolina expert says.

The Asian giant hornet went viral over the weekend after it was verified that they were found for the first time in Washington state.

Celebrities are tweeting out articles about the invasive species calling them the latest plague of 2020.

However, a statewide apiculture (beekeeping) and pollinator specialist at Clemson University said the name refers to how deadly the hornet is to bees, not to humans.

“When it does attack a honeybee colony, it leaves a lot of carnage for the bees,” specialist Ben Powell said. “It’s not any more deadly than any other wasp is to us.”

Powell said they are especially dangerous to honeybees. Asian giant hornet larvae are carnivorous and the hornet itself is attracted to sweet smells, making honeybees and honeybee larvae a prime target.

Powell said honeybees attack intruders by swarming them and vibrating their wings at a high frequency, causing the intruder to overheat.

“[Honeybees] can handle a few wasps at a time, but when they get a bunch of wasps that start to attack the colony, then there’s not enough defenders to prevent all of them from coming in. So this wasp comes in and starts ripping their heads off and throwing them on the ground,” Powell described.

But he said there have been no spottings of the “murder hornets” in South Carolina and the likelihood of them coming here is low.

“The likelihood of them migrating to us is probably pretty low because they would have to traverse a bunch of different ecosystems,” Powell said. “Most likely if we got Asian giant hornets, they would come here through a port. The folks monitoring the ports in Charleston and Savannah are constantly monitoring for these kinds of things and conducting trainings for their inspectors.”

However, like so much during this time, coronavirus has played a role in lowering possible detection for these pests.

“We are always vigilant about invasive exotic species. The state right now is working on a statewide monitoring program, but the whole COVID put us on a halt. We were looking at this. In fact, most of the eastern states have already started to develop some sort of monitoring program…we are on our way,” Powell said.

Powell added “Murder Hornets” aren’t the only species that pose a threat to honeybees. He said they are constantly looking out for other insects like the small hive beetle and varroa mites.

While these pests may not pose a large threat to us, they pose a large potential threat to our food supply.

“Honeybees are critical pollinators for agricultural systems, and they are important for beekeeper economies,” Powell said.

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