What is a yellow-legged hornet? The invasive species spotted in the US for the first time

The yellow-legged hornet, identified as Vespa velutina, comes from Southeast Asia

Kaleigh Werner
New York
Thursday 17 August 2023 19:48 BST
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An invasive hornet species was found by a Georgia native, marking the first time an insect of its kind has been spotted in the US.

After finding an unusual bug flying on his property, a beekeeper from Savannah called the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA), which then worked with the University of Georgia and the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to determine it was a yellow-legged hornet. State officials are now concerned about the insect’s potential harm to the agriculture industry - so much so that they plan to eradicate it as soon as possible.

“This is the first time a live specimen of this species has been detected in the open United States,” the GDA said in a statement made on 15 August. “What everyone is most concerned about is the potential impact this will have to honeybees and the domino effect from there to other areas of agriculture.”

The yellow-legged hornet, otherwise identified as Vespa velutina, comes from Southeast Asia – China, Japan, and Korea in particular. A cousin to this species is the “murder hornet,” Vespa mandarinia, which is native to northern parts of Asia. According to a report by the University of Florida, Vespa velutina has previously invaded several European countries and appeared first in 2004 in France.

“Vespa velutina adults are approximately 22 mm, 1.2 to 3 cm, in length, roughly the length of a US nickel,” per the university’s findings. “Males and females of Vespa velutina can be differentiated from each other by their antennae, with female antennae appearing thinner and shorter in length than male wasps.” All females have a stinger and males do not.

The “murder hornets” are distinguishable by their size, which is one millimetre more than double that of Vespa velutina (45 mm). In addition, Vespa mandarinia have an orange head, whereas the yellow-legged hornets have a more burnt orange, light brown head.

The GDA described the insect as having a thorax and abdomen “predominantly black,” and “a yellow segment near the posterior end of the abdomen”.

“As a generalist predator, they are a pest of honey bees and a major concern to many beekeepers,” the university concluded. “Vespa velutina poses a major threat to the beekeeping industry, particularly that of Apis mellifera, because it reduces honey bee productivity by preying on individuals.”

Their chosen prey also presents a much larger-scale risk for the farming industry as a whole because honey bees are pertinent to certain crops like oranges and almonds. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed that bee pollination adds around $15bn to the value of crops in the country.

The FDA stated: “About one-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, including apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, and almonds.”

While the GDA is working to remove the species, no exact plans or methods have been released. However, state officials are requesting all individuals file a report if they see one themselves. Furthermore, the GDA warned people to stay back and “maintain a safe distance when taking photographs”. Pictures and other details should be submitted via a form linked to the department’s announcement.

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