Why experts are cautious but not panicked about ‘murder hornets’ in Alberta

Alberta’s ecosystem hasn’t been stung by the so-called murder hornet — yet.

The species, which is native to Asia, has created quite the buzz across North America, so experts in the province are tracking its every move.

A Vespa mandarinia 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.

The risk to insects, especially honey bees, is high.

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.

Alberta has the biggest beekeeping industry in the country, with more than 315,000 colonies — which account for 40 per cent of the country’s honey bee population. 

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry conducts bee research. Shelley Hoover is the head of the province’s Bee Health and Assurance Unit. 

“We’re assessing the risk. There is a risk to beekeepers and human health,” Hoover said. “There’s a risk to honey bees and there’s also a risk to the ecosystem because you’re introducing a new top predator. It’s not clear exactly how or to what extent it could be established in Alberta.”

Hoover is skeptical the species can survive Alberta’s winters. But she said research on the insect is sparse and a lot of the studies on the hornet were conducted in Asia, so there’s a language barrier. 

“I think in Alberta even if we were to have occasional sightings of this wasp, I think there are large areas of the province that are not suitable habitat,” Hoover said. “They are a forest dwelling species, so areas where there are no tree cover they wouldn’t do well in.” 

Experts in B.C. say there is a small number of Asian giant hornets, dubbed “murder hornets,” in the province and the risk to humans is low. 2:03

Hoover said the province is watching the situation closely but won’t be attempting its own studies of the hornet. 

“We’re very reluctant to introduce anything to research it just in case it accidentally escapes.”

Bert Blouin has been beekeeping for more than 20 years. While the hornets are a concern to him as a beekeeper, he says invasive species aren’t new.

“There was a small hive beetle a few years ago actually there was a lot of concern,” Blouin said. “It really messed up the beekeeping industry in northern Alberta.”

Blouin said the beetles didn’t survive the winter, and with the Asian giant hornet he hopes for the same.

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