Officials recently identified two Asian giant hornets, dubbed “murder hornets,” in a small area of Washington State. Just one is capable of decimating an entire colony of honey bees, so if the hornets spread, it could be devastating for bee species native to the United States.
Since these giant hornets swarmed national headlines, fear has driven many folks to kill any bee or wasp they see. This approach is problematic as some people mistake a “murder hornet” for native species, which are critical for pollination of wild flowering plants and agricultural crops.
“Bees are already vulnerable to climate change, pesticides, disease and habitat loss,” said Pamela Flick, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s California program. “Now adding ‘murder hornets’ to the growing list of invasive species creates a dangerous situation for native bees.”
A United Nations report found that pollinators vital to our food supply are under threat and that more than 40% of species may be at risk of extinction. In the U.S., strong scientific evidence shows states such as California have several imperiled bee species in need of immediate attention.
Recognizing this, Defenders of Wildlife and our conservation partners filed a motion this year in support of listing four species of bees – the Franklin’s, Suckley cuckoo, Crotch’s and western bumblebees – on the California Endangered Species Act. Defenders petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission in 2018 to protect these four imperiled species.
“Bumblebees are integral to the healthy functioning of California ecosystems and robust food supply,” said Flick. “But with many species in decline for so long, we can’t afford to add new threats to their survival.”
Under the current regulatory timeline, the Commission is scheduled to make a final decision to place these four species on the endangered species list next spring. If the Commission finds that listing is warranted, these bees will become the first invertebrates ever put on the state endangered species list.
The good news for California’s native bees is that the Asian giant hornets have only been detected in Washington State so far. However, they could someday be on the move, spreading beyond the Emerald State soon. Here are some identifying features to look for:
- Usually 1.5-2 inches in length
- Large orange/yellow head with prominent eyes
- Black and yellow striped abdomen
- Forms large colonies that usually nest in the ground
If you think you see an Asian giant hornet, report the sighting immediately to your state’s agriculture department.
And, please, for the sake of the bees: Think before you swat.