‘Mur­der hor­net’ com­ing to your town?

Gi­ant, in­va­sive pests can de­stroy hon­ey­bee hives

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS | NATION - Doyle Rice

Could the “mur­der hor­net” be com­ing to your town?

For the first time, sci­en­tists have de­ter­mined how and where the Asian gi­ant hor­net, an in­va­sive new­comer to the Pa­cific North­west from Asia, could spread and find an ideal habi­tat, both in the United States and world­wide.

The find­ings were pub­lished this week in a study in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences.

“We found many suit­able cli­mates in the U.S. and around the globe,” said study lead au­thor Geng­ping Zhu, a post­doc­toral scholar at Wash­ing­ton State Univer­sity’s depart­ment of en­to­mol­ogy.

Scar­ily nick­named “mur­der hor­nets,” the Asian gi­ant hor­net, the world’s largest at 2 inches, can de­stroy en­tire hives of hon­ey­bees and de­liver a painful sting to hu­mans. Farm­ers in the North­west de­pend on those hon­ey­bees to pol­li­nate many crops such as ap­ples, blue­ber­ries and cher­ries.

Asian gi­ant hor­nets are most likely to thrive in places with warm summers, mild win­ters and high rain­fall, ac­cord­ing to the study. Ex­treme heat is lethal, so their most suit­able habi­tats are in re­gions with a max­i­mum tem­per­a­ture of 102 Fahren­heit.

If the hor­net gains a foothold in Wash­ing­ton state, it could even­tu­ally spread down much of the West Coast, the study said.

Wash­ing­ton State Univer­sity en­to­mol­o­gist David Crow­der told USA TODAY that “the Asian gi­ant hor­net does have the po­ten­tial for rapid spread through­out the coastal parts of the western United States and Bri­tish Columbia, and thus wide­spread and in­ten­sive mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts are com­pletely war­ranted.

“Pre­vent­ing the es­tab­lish­ment and spread of Asian gi­ant hor­net in western North Amer­ica is crit­i­cal for pro­tect­ing bees and bee­keep­ers,” Crow­der said.

The hor­net could spread either nat­u­rally or through ac­ci­den­tal hu­man trans­port.

For­tu­nately, the bug is un­likely to spread east across the na­tion: “It is highly un­likely that the hor­nets could make their way across the en­tire coun­try,” Crow­der said. “Much of the habi­tat in the cen­tral United states (east of Wash­ing­ton and west of the Mis­sis­sippi River) is com­pletely un­suit­able habi­tat for the hor­nets, as it is too hot and has too low rain­fall.

“Thus, un­less they are moved by hu­mans, it would be nearly im­pos­si­ble for the hor­nets to make their way across the coun­try on their own. Hu­man-trans­port of the Asian gi­ant hor­net is also rare, so we don’t think other parts of the coun­try need to be con­cerned right now,” he said.

The in­va­sive in­sect was first doc­u­mented in Wash­ing­ton late last year. Of­fi­cials have said it’s not known how the in­sect ar­rived in North Amer­ica. It nor­mally lives in the forests and low moun­tains of east­ern and south­east Asia.

WASH­ING­TON STATE DEPART­MENT OF AGRI­CUL­TURE

The Asian gi­ant hor­net, the world's largest species of hor­net, was found last year in north­west Wash­ing­ton and could spread else­where.

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