The hornet has landed: Scientists combat new honeybee killer in US

An invasive yellow-legged wasp has been decimating beehives in Europe — and bedeviling Georgia since last summer. Researchers are working nest by nest to limit the threat while developing better eradication methods.


In early August 2023, a beekeeper near the port of Savannah, Georgia, noticed some odd activity around his hives. Something was hunting his honeybees. It was a flying insect bigger than a yellowjacket, mostly black with bright yellow legs. The creature would hover at the hive entrance, capture a honeybee in flight and butcher it before darting off with the bee’s thorax, the meatiest bit.

“He’d only been keeping bees since March … but he knew enough to know that something wasn’t right with this thing,” says Lewis Bartlett, an evolutionary ecologist and honeybee expert at the University of Georgia, who helped to investigate. Bartlett had seen these honeybee hunters before, during his PhD studies in England a decade earlier. The dreaded yellow-legged hornet had arrived in North America.

With origins in Afghanistan, eastern China and Indonesia, the yellow-legged hornet, Vespa velutina, has expanded during the last two decades into South Korea, Japan and Europe. When the hornet invades new territory, it preys on honeybeesbumblebees and other vulnerable insects. One yellow-legged hornet can kill up to dozens of honeybees in a single day. It can decimate colonies through intimidation by deterring honeybees from foraging. “They’re not to be messed with,” says honeybee researcher Gard Otis, professor emeritus at the University of Guelph in Canada.

The yellow-legged hornet is so destructive that it was the first insect to land on the European Union’s blacklist of invasive species. In Portugal, honey production in some regions of the country has slumped by more than 35 percent since the hornet’s arrival. French beekeepers have reported 30 percent to 80 percent of honeybee coloniesexterminated in some locales, costing the French economy an estimated $33 million annually.

All that destruction may be linked to a single, multi-mated queen that arrived at the port of Bordeaux, France, in a shipment of bonsai pots from China before 2004. During her first spring, she established a nest, reared workers and laid eggs. By fall, hundreds of new mated queens likely exited and found overwintering sites, restarting the cycle in the spring. The hornet’s fortitude — it is the Diana Nyad of invasive social wasps — allowed it to surge across France’s borders into Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Switzerland in only two decades, hurtling onward by as much as 100 kilometers a year.

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As Canada’s boreal forests burn again and again, they won’t grow back the same way


In 2015, Ellen Whitman bushwhacked her way through a section of boreal forest in the southern Northwest Territories, near Fort Smith, and stepped into an open landscape, dotted with leafy trees. The area had once been thick with white spruce and some jack pine, but instead, Dr. Whitman saw trembling aspens surrounded by grassland.

“It was almost like a savannah,” said Dr. Whitman, who is a forest-fire research scientist at Natural Resources Canada in Edmonton. “It was a big change.”

Two fires had torn through the area less than 15 years apart. The first one burned the dense coniferous forest of older trees. The second killed off the young conifers that had sprouted after the first fire. The interval between the fires was too short for the trees to produce mature seeds and regenerate the forest on their own, allowing grasses, shrubs and deciduous trees to take root instead.

It’s a shift that threatens to recur across Canada’s boreal forest. As wildfires increase in size, severity and frequency, against a backdrop of warmer temperatures and persistent drought, the boreal is beginning to give way to birch, aspen, shrubs and grasses.

Read the rest of the story at The Globe and Mail.

Selected Articles

How Ron Pittaway developed his acclaimed winter finch forecast

LIVING BIRD MAGAZINE, Winter 2020 — Pittaway has made it his mission to lend some predictability to winter finch sightings by compiling intelligence from his network of naturalists across Canada and the U.S. and analyzing the data to reveal his predictions.

Butterflies in the storm

BIOGRAPHIC — Battling rising seas and creeping asphalt, scientists race to save two endangered species.

Cost of Arctic fieldwork limits research

SCIENCE — Funding sources are often insufficient to cover expenses, limiting scientists from understanding how Arctic ecosystems are responding to climate change.

Sea change

BIOGRAPHIC — The Arctic Ocean is beginning to look and act more like the Atlantic. It’s a shift that threatens to upend an entire food web built on frigid waters.

High stakes in the High North

BIOGRAPHIC — A remote island that harbored the word’s last mammoths is becoming a holdout for Arctic wildlife once again.

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