- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Just when folks were beginning to think "it may be over and done" regarding Asian giant hornet sightings, it's not.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has just trapped its first Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, which the news media dubbed "the murder hornet." (It's a name that makes entomologists cringe.)
In a news release published July 31, officials announced that they found a hornet in a WSDA trap set near Birch Bay in Whatcom County. "WSDA trappers checked the bottle trap on July 14 and submitted the contents for processing at WSDA's entomology lab. The hornet was identified during processing on July 29. This was the first hornet to be detected in a trap, rather than found in the environment as the state's five previous confirmed sightings were."
Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist for the department, said: “This is encouraging because it means we know that the traps work. But it also means we have work to do."
So WSDA will now use infrared cameras and place additional traps in the area. These are special traps to catch them alive. From the press release: "If they catch live hornets, the department will attempt to tag and track them back to their colony. Once located, the agency will eradicate the colony."
"WSDA hopes to find and destroy the nest by mid-September before the colony would begin creating new reproducing queens and drones. Until that time, the colony will only contain the queen and worker Asian giant hornets. Destroying the nest before new queens emerge and mate will prevent the spread of this invasive pest."
All in all, WSDA, citizen scientists and others have set out more than 1300 traps in Washington state.
"Those interested in trapping can still build and set traps on their own property," according to the news release. "Traps require weekly bait replacement and a commitment to mail the trap contents to WSDA if bees or wasps are collected. If a citizen scientist traps a live Asian giant hornet, they should call the WSDA Pest Program hotline at 1-800-443-6684."
"Because the number of Asian giant hornet workers increases as a colony develops, residents should be most likely to see an Asian giant hornet in August and September. If you think you have seen one, report it at agr.wa.gov/hornets. Provide as much detail as you can about what you saw and where. Also, include a photo if you can safely obtain one, and if you come across a dead specimen keep it for potential testing."
Noted hymenopterist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, has been following the confirmed and unconfirmed sightings and recently talked about the Asian giant hornets on a podcast with urban entomologist Michael Bentley on his BugBytes podcast. Click here to listen.
Bentley serves as the director of training and education for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), headquartered in Fairfax, Va., and hosts NPMA's BugBytes. Kimsey, a global authority on wasps, bees and other insects, is a two-term past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists.
They talked about the history of the hornet, its biology, its range, its behavior, its stings, and the news media frenzy.
What was known then: two incidents occurred in North America last year. A single colony of the Asian giant hornet was found and destroyed Sept. 18, 2019 in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, Canada, and a single dead hornet was found Dec. 8, 2019 in nearby Blaine, Wash. Kimsey says they probably hitchhiked on a cargo ship,
Asian giant hornets, originating from Asia, can decimate a honey bee colony, and the Washington beekeeping industry is concerned that these invasive pests may become established here.
Meanwhile, many so-called "murder hornets" have turned out to be yellow jackets, European paper wasps, hover flies, hoverflies, moths, circadas and even a Jerusalem cricket (potato bug). Stephane De Greef, a Belgium-born entomology advocate, traveler, field guide, and photographer, earlier called the frenzy "a bloody dumpster fire." He launched a fun (and informative) Facebook page, Is This a Murder Hornet?" In a Facebook comment today, he pointed out that the findings are all within a 10-mile radius (see the map he posted below).
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Blue ants of the genus Leptogenys, native to southeast Asia, surround their prey, a massive millipede. It's almost like circling the wagons in a scene from the Wild West. Or "rodeo-style behavior."
The millipede coils into a defensive position. When it lets up its guard, returning to its non-defensive elongated position, the ants attack. One sting, then another, then another. Soon, countless stings. The millipede is doomed.
It's a sight few people ever see. The ants--yes, there is strength in numbers--attack it, kill it, form a living chain, and drag the carcass back to their nest. Their living chain is not unlike what honey bees do in their behavior called "festooning," (which we've seen multiple times at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis and at other apiaries).
No wonder ants and bees, which belong to the order Hymenoptera, are called "superorganisms."
Belgium-born Stéphane De Greef (and aFacebook friend) captured this amazing video, "Predation on Large Millipedes and Self-Assembling Chains inLeptogenys Ants from Cambodia," which is now an Internet sensation. You can see it here:
How big is the millipede? It weighs more than 1,000 times that of the tiny ant, De Greef says.
De Greef and evolutionary biologist Christian Peeters, of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, discovered the previously undocumented behavior back in 2010. Although Peeters specializes in researching the genus, he had never seen the behavior before.
“We were on Phnom Khulen in 2010 looking for some rare ants, and turned around and saw this huge line of ants dragging a millipede,” said De Greef, 36, an environmental engineer, cartographer, nature photographer and nature guide who has lived in Siem Reap, Cambodia since 2002.
Born in 1977 in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, De Greef developed and pursued his passion for nature in his early childhood. He spent countless hours "roaming nearby forests, looking for insects, climbing up trees, digging for fossils and exploring caves."
De Greef went on to study environmental sciences in Belgium at at Gembloux's Agro-Bio Tech University (GxABT). There he developed a keen interest in cartography, information management and tropical biodiversity. He received a master's degree in bioengineering (Nature and Forests Management), concentrating his research on the biodiversity of tropical forests in Ecuador and Gabon.
Since then, he's traveled the world, spearheading a wide range of projects and missions.
- Mapping of societies
- Humanitarian Mine Action
- Environment and entomology
- Archaeology and exploration
"As an engineer, I have traveled all over the world since 1999, from Latin America to Southeast Asia via Europe and Africa," De Greef says. "I mostly work as an information expert and cartographer in humanitarian and development projects, environment and archaeology."
"As a photographer, my main areas of interest are the natural beauty of people, Nature's amazing diversity and the darkest aspects of human societies, As a video producer, I'm mainly looking into expeditions, news related to explosive devices and human rights violations."
And, all the while, De Greef has been capturing images of widespread interest in Belgium, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Haiti, India, Laos, Mali, Nepal, Sudan, the United States and the Western Sahara. (Read more about him in a photography online interview and on his website.)
In reality, de Greef is Ant-Man, Indiana Jones and the insect version of Internet Explorer all rolled into one.
He describes himself: "After playing a key role in 2012 in uncovering the ancient cityscape of Mahendraparvata using LiDAR technology, I now share my time between my nature photography work, most notably for the Meet Your Neighbours project and my Cambodian Bioblitz Initiative, and my nature and countryside discovery tours around Angkor as independent guide."
One thing is for certain: you'll never look at an ant "your" way again after you've seen these blue ants of Cambodia and how they circle, attack, kill, and drag away their prey.