Before the Asian giant hornets, which carry the gruesome nickname “Murder Hornets,” arrived in the United States, this country’s native honey bees were already facing diseases, animals and other pests that were doing them harm.
But with the hornets discovery in Washington state back in the winter of 2019, honey bees could have a new threat to contend with if the deadly hornets are not eradicated before they have a chance to spread across the country.
Tammy Potter, apiarist for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, is the one charged with tracking such threats to ensure the survival of the honey bee.
“…They first came into Vancouver (Canada) in September,” Potter said. “And the assumption is, it’s a port city; it’s on the western side of the United States and that it was probably through shipping containers.”
For the second year in a row, Potter has been setting new Asian giant hornet traps in an effort to remain vigilant against the insect, which can grow up to 2 inches long.
“The USDA has had apiarists putting out traps for Asian giant hornets since 2019,” Potter said. “So I can tell you that in Kentucky, none of the samples I sent in to be identified showed any signs of Asian giant hornet.”
The hornets typically build nests in the ground or in tree stumps. They feed off other insects and small animals for protein.
And if a foraging hornet comes across a beehive, it leaves behind a pheromone to find its way back to the hive, allowing the hornet to retrieve reinforcements for an attack.
Potter said the hornets aren’t interested in the honey — only the bees’ thoraxes that are taken back to the nests to feed their young.
“Asian giant hornets do tremendous damage to honey bee hives,” Potter said. “They like to decapitate honey bees and can kill up to 40 honey bees in one minute.”
However, Potter said the nickname “Murder Hornet” didn’t come from the way they take out honey bees.
“It is much more, I think, on public safety; there have been human fatalities related to this particular type of hornet,” Potter said.
But with a heavy reliance on honey bees to help pollinate fruits and vegetables, there is a necessity and priority being placed on their survival.
Jim Mason, a Daviess County beekeeper, is currently maintaining nine beehives in his backyard.
Mason said he first learned about the Asian giant hornet last year from Potter.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of people on Facebook making a bigger deal of it than they probably should be,” said Mason about the murder hornet attention. “… I would put them in the category of Africanized bees. They seem to worry about them too much.”
Mason, however, said the immediate threat to honey bees are varroa mites, which arrived in the United States in the 1980s. Varroa mites do damage to the body of the bee and transfer viruses at the same time.
“We have to treat our hives two or three times a year just to keep them under control,” Mason said. “You never can get rid of (varroa mites) completely. But that’s probably one of the biggest causes of hive loss in the United States.”
Since being discovered in Washington State, at least two murder hornet hives have been destroyed.
Potter said apiarists and beekeepers there are trying to do their part to ensure the hornets are eradicated before they can spread and do more harm to the honey bees or to any humans.
And since the hornets have gained national awareness, Potter added that she has received “an avalanche” of phone calls, emails and texts from people who want to protect the honey bees from a potential new invader.
“…They do not want this Asian giant hornet coming in and decimating our honey bee colonies,” she said. “There’s an awareness that honey bees provide pollination for 90 different crops and there’s an appreciation for the fact that in the United States an amazing diversity of foods. …We never pay the cost of the pollination service that honey bees provide.”
Don Wilkins, dwilkins @messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299