Honeybees have enough problems these days, from Varroa destructor mites to climate change, from monocultures to lack of wildflowers, from pesticides to zombie flies. Now they may have to contend with Asian giant hornets which decapitate them and annihilate their colonies. But if that isn’t bad enough, the newest potential threat to them is… panicking people.
Maybe people are over-wrought due to the Corona virus and economic conditions. The media has generated so much fear about these hornets that people are now freaking out and killing honeybees and other innocent and non-threatening insects. Where did the name “murder hornets” begin? Some say the phrase was coined by the New York Times, but by now it’s everywhere. It sounds terrifying and people take it seriously. Entomologists are not happy about the hype.
The Washington state Department of Agriculture is encouraging residents to set traps for these hornets. They do not encourage people in other states to do so yet, but officials in Kentucky and Tennessee have announced that they plan to set traps even though the hornets have not spread that far, and it is unlikely that they will. These traps contain a bait mixture of orange juice and rice cooking wine, according to the LA Times, and many insects including bees are attracted to this. The traps pose a threat to native insects like honeybees and bumblebees.
According to Doug Yanega, senior museum scientist at the Department of Entomology at UC Riverside, many millions of innocent native insects will die as a result of these traps being set. The people in China, Japan and Korea have lived with these hornets for hundreds of years and it has not caused human society in those countries to collapse. He says those people must be rolling their eyes in disbelief at us in the US and think we are snowflakes. He isn’t downplaying the threat from these hornets, but he says the only people in the USA that should be concerned right now live in northwestern Washington state.
Here is a 2-minute video by Stephen Wheeler, showing how he easily protected a Japanese honeybee colony from Asian giant hornets with sticky paper. Some think it's a great idea, some think it's cruel. After you read this blog post you may want to visit Youtube and read the info he added in the description section where he gives a very fair and balanced account of his reasoning.
Asian beekeepers have devised ways to keep the giant hornets out, and native honeybees have adapted to the threat. The Asian honeybee has adapted with defenses, if a hornet enters their hive they buzz, raise the temperature in the hive and cook the invader to death. American honeybees don’t know to do this yet. As the USA meets these hornets for the first time, there is plenty of room for errors.
Reports about these Asian giant hornets, or Vespa mandarinia, have been everywhere this week in the news. While they are a deadly foe that honeybees must contend with, there is little doubt that recent alarming media stories about how they sting humans have created some national hysteria about their arrival in the USA. This is leading to the unnecessary slaughter of native bees and wasps that are already endangered or threatened. Experts around the US are being flooded with calls from people who incorrectly think they’ve seen the Asian giant hornet, and they warn that people are now mistakenly killing essential bee populations. Some entomologists say 99% of this is due to media hype.
There have been no live US sightings of the Asian giant hornets yet this year, but they emerge from hibernation in April. The truth is that these insects are dangerous. They decapitate insects and bees with ease due to protruding jagged mandibles.
May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, believes people are afraid of the wrong thing. She says if there is a murder insect out there, it is the mosquito which kills millions every year from malaria, dengue fever and other diseases, according to the World Health Organization.
And according to The Record, a Canadian-based internet news site, the Asian giant hornets have nothing on the Varroa destructor mites, which are the true nightmare for honeybees and are believed to be behind the colony collapse disorder that is killing honeybee colonies all over North America and around the world.
The Asian giant hornet is a serious threat for bees, but a bigger worry is the parasitic ‘zombie fly’ since more of them have been seen in several US states whereas the hornet has not been seen in the US yet this year.
Let's close this post by saying, it's time we do loving things for bees and other friendly and helpful insects in our surroundings. Plant pollen- and nectar-producing flowers and herbs for them and provide a bee bath so they have fresh water. Summer hasn't even arrived yet, so the sooner you do it the better. If nothing else, buy a hanging basket of cascading flowers... there's always something we can do. :)
BEE safe and BEE kind to bees.