How experts are working to get rid of ‘murder hornets’

In recent days, so-called murder hornets have been making headlines across North America and getting quite the rap to boot.

“They’re these really large hornets, they’re fairly big. And the reason they’re called murder hornets is because in the fall they go after honey bees,” said Christine Noronha, an entomologist with Agriculture Canada in P.E.I. 

She also noted that while you may be hearing the species affectionately referred to as murder hornets, experts know them as Asian giant hornets or Vespa mandarinia. 

In an interview with Island Morning host Mitch Cormier on Monday, Noronha didn’t try to assuage some of the current buzz surrounding the species’ size. 

“A queen can be over two inches, so that’s fairly big for a queen but a worker can also be 1.8 inches,” she said.

‘That could be a problem’

“The species poses a high risk to insects, especially honey bees,” Noronha said, “They’re so much larger than the honey bees so that they can easily go and attack them and they have this huge source of protein because there are so many honey bees in a colony.” 

The hornet is huge, about five centimetres in length, and known for how quickly and viciously it can decimate entire bee colonies. It’s said this species can kill anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 bees in a matter of hours.

“If they do get established, that could be a problem.” 

They don’t really go after humans or pets unless they’re disturbed or threatened.— Christine Noronha, entomologist

However, Noronha said the species doesn’t pose a huge threat in North America at the moment.

A nest was found and destroyed in British Columbia last year, and more recently hornets were spotted in Washington state, sparking a flurry of panicked headlines about the invasive species.

“They found a colony and they’re trying to eradicate it. So right now, they’re trying to make sure that they can get rid of it,” she said, “It’ hasn’t established yet so it’s not a big problem right now.” 

The species, native to Asia, has been keeping experts across North America busy working to eradicate it.

In the fall, Noronha said the queens leave the nest to mate, afterwards they burrow into the soil and spend the winter months there. In the spring, queens begin their search for a new nest. 

“What they’re trying to do this year, is put out the traps to catch those females.” 

They can sting many times. They pack a good amount of venom in their sting.— Christine Noronha, entomologist

For now, Noronha said unless you’re a honey bee, you shouldn’t be too concerned.

“They don’t really go after humans or pets unless they’re disturbed or threatened but if they do sting you … their sting can be quite painful,” she said. 

“They can sting many times. They pack a good amount of venom in their sting. And they sting repeatedly.” 

Experts who are working to get rid of the nasty species in British Columbia, she said will likely get a better sense of whether their efforts have paid off sometime this year.

As there have been so few nests found, so far — on Vancouver Island, Nanaimo and Washington state — all efforts will be focused on those areas and making sure no more queens are produced, she said.

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