Nav: Home

Scientists predict potential spread, habitat of invasive Asian giant hornet

September 22, 2020

PULLMAN, Wash. - Researchers at Washington State University have predicted how and where the Asian giant hornet, an invasive newcomer to the Pacific Northwest, popularly dubbed the "murder hornet," could spread and find ideal habitat, both in the United States and globally.

Sharing their discoveries in a newly published article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team found that if the world's largest hornet gains a foothold in Washington state, it could spread down much of the west coast of the United States.

The Asian giant hornet could also find suitable habitat throughout the eastern seaboard and populous parts of Africa, Australia, Europe, and South America, if humans inadvertently transport it.

The team's predictions underline the importance of Washington state's efforts to stop the large insects before they spread.

"We found many suitable climates in the U.S. and around the globe," said lead author Gengping Zhu, a postdoctoral scholar at WSU's Department of Entomology.

Collaborating with Washington State Department of Agriculture scientist Chris Looney and WSU entomologists David Crowder and Javier Illan, Zhu examined more than 200 records from the hornet's native range in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, then used a set of ecological models incorporating climate data to predict likely global habitat across six continents.

"These predictions are scientific sleuthing," Illan said. "We're making an educated guess on how fast and far these insects can move, their rate of success in establishing a nest, and offering different scenarios, from least bad to worst. No one has done this before for this species."

A wide range of suitable habitats

Native to forested parts of Asia, the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, is a significant threat to Western honey bees, which have no natural defense. In late summer and fall, hornet colonies attack beehives, destroying entire bee colonies to feed their brood and produce new queens.

Up to two inches long, the insect also deploys a potent sting, which is more dangerous than that of local bees and wasps.

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

Based on those factors, suitable habitat for the giant hornet exists along much of the U.S. west and east coasts, adjacent parts of Canada, much of Europe, northwestern and southeastern South America, central Africa, eastern Australia, and most parts of New Zealand.

Much of the interior of the U.S. is inhospitable to the hornet due to extremes of heat, cold, and low rainfall. This includes the eastern parts of Washington state and British Columbia, as well as California's Central Valley, all of which have major fruit and nut crops that rely on honey bee pollination.

Danger of accidental spread

Using data from a similar species, Vespa velutina, scientists predicted that without containment, Asian giant hornets could spread into southern Washington and Oregon, and north through British Columbia. Calculating that hornets could fly up to 68 miles per year, their worst-case scenario found that the insects could disperse throughout the western regions of Washington and Oregon in 20 years or less.

However, scientists cautioned that these predictions are an educated guess.

"The information that we want--how fast and far queens can fly, and when they fly--is all unknown," Illan said. "A lot of basic biology is unknown. So, we're using a surrogate."

"We know queens come out of their nest in the fall, mate, and fly--somewhere," Looney said. But nobody knows how far they fly, or if they fly repeatedly. We don't know if they set up nests in the spring near where they hibernated, or if they start flying again. These are some of the things that make predicting natural dispersal a challenge."

Nature alone cannot predict where the hornet may end up. Human activity plays a role in transporting invasive species around the globe. While colonies can only be started by mated queens, and a USDA analysis found that accidental transport by humans is unlikely, Looney said that human-assisted spread could be a concern.

"It's easy for some species to get moved accidentally from one side of the country to the other, even if there's a large swathe of unacceptable habitat in between," he said.

"Preventing the establishment and spread of Asian giant hornet in western North America is critical for protecting bees and beekeepers," Crowder said. "Our study can inform strategies to monitor and eradicate these invaders before they become established."
-end-


Washington State University

Related Insects Articles:

A robot to track and film flying insects
French scientists have developed the first cable-driven robot that can follow and interact with free-flying insects.
Dramatic loss of food plants for insects
Just a few weeks ago, everyone was talking about plummeting insect numbers.
The brains of shrimps and insects are more alike than we thought
Crustaceans share a brain structure known to be crucial for learning and memory in insects, a University of Arizona-led research team discovered.
Freshwater insects recover while spiders decline in UK
Many insects, mosses and lichens in the UK are bucking the trend of biodiversity loss, according to a comprehensive analysis of over 5,000 species led by UCL and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), and published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
Hundreds of novel viruses discovered in insects
New viruses which cause diseases often come from animals. Well-known examples of this are the Zika virus transmitted by mosquitoes, bird flu viruses, as well as the MERS virus which is associated with camels.
Tiny insects become 'visible' to bats when they swarm
Small insects that would normally be undetectable to bats using echolocation suddenly become detectable when they occur in large swarms.
Helpful insects and landscape changes
We might not notice them, but the crops farmers grow are protected by scores of tiny invertebrate bodyguards.
New information on tropical parasitoid insects revealed
The diversity and ecology of African parasitoid wasps was studied for over a year during a project run by the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku in Finland.
Insects need empathy
In February, environmentalists in Germany collected 1.75 million signatures for a 'save the bees law.' Citizens can stop insect declines by halting habitat loss and fragmentation, producing food without pesticides and limiting climate change, say the authors of this Perspectives piece in Science.
Migratory hoverflies 'key' as many insects decline
Migratory hoverflies are 'key' to pollination and controlling crop pests amid the decline of many other insect species, new research shows.
More Insects News and Insects Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.