SAN ANTONIO – The Asian giant hornet or so-called “murder hornet” has been spotted in the United States for the time first time ever, and that has caused concern for officials in Texas.
Gov. Greg Abbott is requesting the formation of a specialized task force, led by Texas A&M AgriLife experts, to protect citizens, agriculture and honey bees if the insect arrives.
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Experts say the hornet preys on bees and can decimate local honey bee populations. The hornet is known to wipe out entire hives within a matter of hours.
Honey bees are vital and essential for most fruit and vegetable crop production in the state. Crops rely on honey bees and other insects for pollination and crop yields would greatly suffer without them.
Asian giant hornets also fiercely protective of their nests and deploy painful stings that can cause fatal allergic reactions in people already sensitive to bee stings, according to Texas A&M AgriLife officials.
“Although this pest has not been spotted in Texas, the hornet poses a threat to both agriculture and public health,” said Patrick J. Stover, vice chancellor of Texas A&M AgriLife.
“Because of this, we are bringing the diverse expertise and knowledge base that exists within Texas A&M AgriLife to collaborate with federal partners and extension agents across the country to protect our state and the global food supply.”
Molly Keck, an entomologist with Texas A&M AgriLife in Bexar County, told KSAT on Tuesday that the colder weather up north will play a part in their possible migration.
“What I hope is that it’s just too cold where they are right now, and they’re not used to that weather and then they die off over the winter time and they don’t become endemic here,” said Keck.
Keck said if they survive the winter, they possibly could make it farther south.
“It’s certainly a possibility especially since we are much more tropical,” said Keck. “Most insects like the warmer weather so it’s more likely that they would make it south as opposed to starting south and traveling up north. And if their host or their primary food source for their offspring are honeybees, there are plenty of hives all over the United States. So there’s not a lack of food to prevent them from coming down here.”
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It remains unclear how the pests ended up in North America. The hornet was found in the Pacific Northwest late last year.
Washington state investigations are focusing on the possibility that container ship or airplane transport may have inadvertently transported a fertilized female hornet.
Part of the response to stop the hornets from migrating to other areas in the country include preparing state entry points for cargo transportation.
Customs and Border Protection staff will also be trained to detect the Asian giant hornet and surveillance will be increased for incoming containers.
The Texas task force will work on detection efforts for border and port-of-entry points. The team will also assist with mitigation efforts to protect Texas honey bee populations.