The Georgia Department of Agriculture announced earlier this week that a beekeeper in Savannah found an unusual insect later identified by University of Georgia officials as a yellow-legged hornet.
Yellow-legged hornets (Vespa velutina) are an invasive species that decimate honeybee colonies, which are all-you-can-eat buffets to the hornets. They are native to southeast Asia but have spread throughout most of Europe and the rest of Asia. The hornet’s discovery in Georgia is the first detection of the insect alive in the open United States, according to a GDA release.
“Our experienced team of professionals will continue to assess the situation and are working directly with USDA APHIS and UGA to trap, track, and eradicate the yellow-legged hornet in Georgia,” said Tyler Harper, the GDA’s agriculture commissioner, in the same release.
The hornets, also called the Asian hornet, are not to be confused with the northern giant hornet (or murder hornet, Vespa mandarinia), which reared its similarly yellow head across the Pacific Northwest in 2020.
Honeybees produced 157 million pounds of honey in 2019, according to the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service, and their beeswax is important for making candles and wood finishes.
The apian animals’ most important role, however, is as pollinators; according to the USDA, the commercial production of over 90 crops relies on bee pollination, and the insects’ pollination boosts American crop value by $15 billion every year.
Hornets and bees generally don’t get along. Researchers studying giant hornets’ (also known as the southern giant hornet, Vespa soror) predation of Asian honey bees (Apis cerana) found that the latter “scream” when attacked, as a warning to their bee brethren.
The department will work alongside the University of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stamp out any hornet populations that appear to be getting a foothold in the state. The operational plan will “trap, track, and eradicate the yellow-legged hornet in Georgia,” according to the release. DNA analysis will also investigate whether the population that has made its way to the state has any relation to the invasive populations established in Europe.
Unfortunately, the hornets are just the latest threat faced by honeybees. The animals have long suffered from foulbrood, an infectious disease that causes die-offs of entire colonies. Earlier this year, the USDA approved the use of a foulbrood vaccine in honeybee populations.
But not even vaccines can protect bees from killer hornets, so keep your fingers crossed that the Georgian institutions can clamp down on the yellow-legged interlopers before they do substantial harm.