SAN ANTONIO – The Asian Giant Hornet is roughly about two inches long, but it’s causing a big buzz across the country.
For the first time ever, the insect which has been dubbed the “murder hornet” because it can decimate honeybee hives with its potent venom and stinger, has been located in the United States.
The New York Times reported the hornet was found in the Pacific Northwest.
“Within a matter of hours, they can kill off an entire bee colony which is pretty amazing considering that you will have 60,000-plus honeybees in a healthy colony,” said Molly Keck, an entomologist with the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service in Bexar County.
Even though the hornets are still hundreds of miles away from our area, it has been a topic of discussion in the South Texas area for months.
“The Texas Beekeepers Association had been talking about it,” said Keck. “That had kind of been on the radar for the next big pest that was going to arrive.”
Keck said the “murder hornet,” like many invasive species, may have been transported to the United States on a cargo ship. The next step is seeing how the hornet adapts to the weather.
“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 wintertime and they don’t become endemic here,” said Keck.
If the hornet does survive the colder months, there is a possibility it could migrate to states farther south, including Texas where the weather is warmer.
“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.”
Honeybees are vital to our ecosystem and environment, especially in South Texas. The food supply could be disrupted without them.
“We just simply wouldn't have the amount of food or variety of food that we have,” said Keck. “We use honeybees primarily to pollinate agricultural crops. There's never been anything this kind of that can immediately kill a population so fast.”
According to the New York Times, Asian Giant hornets kill about 50 people a year in Japan. Researchers say they can sting through a bee suit.
“They're so large that I would just think the amount of venom they can give you at one time is much more than you would get from a single bee or even a handful of our regular wasps,” said Keck.
However, Keck adds that it is not uncommon for people to die from stings. She said like any other social insect, it’s best to avoid disrupting them in their home environment.
“We have lots of people that die from honeybee stings, reactions and also wasps in the United States and so we've learned to avoid those stinging insects,” said Keck. “I think the immediate and big threat is probably to the honeybee hives.”
“They're not going to sting us because they want to eat us and they're not going to seek us out to sting us,” said Keck. “But if you encounter their nest or wherever it is that they live, that's where they will be their most aggressive. Any social insect is at its most aggressive when you're messing with your home.”
South Texas is already home to some large insects and wasps, but Keck is certain we have not seen the so-called “murder hornet” in our part of the country for now.
“We have Cicada killer wasps, which are about a 2-inch or 1-and a half inch wasp,” said Keck. “We have some big guys. I just don’t think we have these just yet.”
Keck said for the moment, there is not a reason to be overly concerned in South Texas. She said it will take time to study the “murder hornet” in the United States and follow its breeding and migration patterns.
“Give it a year and let’s see how fast they move,” said Keck. “But someone in Japan, I’m sure knows more about them than we do here. We just have to get with them to figure out how do they spread and how quickly does that happen.”