Asian giant hornets – AKA ‘murder hornets’ – are the latest damaging invasive insects discovered in North America. Not unlike emerald ash borer, spotted wing drosophila, Asian long-horned beetle and the brown marmorated stink bug, murder hornets likely found their way to Canada and United States via global trade.
After being spotted on Vancouver Island last year, murder hornets were observed for the first-time ever in the United States this week when beekeepers in Washington State reported finding “piles of dead bees with their heads ripped off.”
Insect experts from Western University’s Department of Biology are available to speak with media about the potential threat to Canadians and Canada’s declining honey bee population.
Brent Sinclair, a biology professor who studies insects at low temperatures, encountered Asian giant hornets during a research visit to China.
“I saw them perched on trees, hawking bees as they came into the hive – much like a sharp-shinned hawk at a bird feeder. If they can get into a honey bee hive, and they will, they’ll systematically eat their way through all the brood of a hive within a few days so they are really bad news for beekeepers,” says Sinclair.
Murder hornets boast a very painful sting and multiple stings have resulted in human deaths occasionally but Sinclair says this is not a major concern.
“My understanding is death is not very common. Certainly when I was in China studying with bee researchers, no one discussed them as being dangerous in that sense,” says Sinclair. “However, the risk is there.”
Graham Thompson, a biology professor who studies insect social behaviour, says murder hornets are another threat in a long line of threats to Canada’s honey bee population.
“Honey bees have a lot of natural enemies. Bacteria, fungus, mites attack them and pose serious threats,” explains Thompson. “And we humans don’t do them any favours either by exposing them to lots of different chemicals and pesticides so even though the Asian giant hornet is pretty spectacular from a predator point of view, it would just be entering the bottom of the list of what’s currently threatening honey bees. But it’s now on the list nonetheless.”
Commentary reflects the perspective and scholarly interest of Western faculty members and is not an articulation of official university policy on issues being addressed.
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