By Shelly Oren
The Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is a new invasive pest in North America that, if left unchecked, has the potential to devastate honey bee colonies in some states.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), honey bees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops each year, and contribute to food diversity, security and profitability. Further, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that U.S. agricultural production loses $13 billion per year from invasive insects.
While the number of Asian giant hornet sightings in the U.S. has been limited to confirmed identifications in Washington state, government agencies and local beekeepers have moved quickly hoping to eradicate the hornet before it can establish a stronghold across North America.
The Asian giant hornet is, as its name implies, extremely big, ranging from 1 1/2- to 2-inches long. (Note the size comparison to a honey bee in the photo.) Their venom is toxic and they can sting repeatedly, which has earned them the nickname “murder hornets.” Typically, the hornets attack honey bees in late summer or early fall, when workers are feeding new queens and males that come out of the colony to mate.
After several dead hornets were spotted in Washington state in 2019, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) trapped its first hornet in July 2020. In addition to tracking and trapping hornets, the agency is also disseminating education materials and trapping information to the public and has directed citizens who want to engage in trapping to closely follow agency instructions and precautions so as not to harm native pollinators.
Additionally, the Washington Legislature enacted SB 6168 in April 2020, which appropriated $38,000 in the current fiscal year and $63,000 in the next fiscal year for an Asian giant hornet eradication program.
Other states also have efforts underway to prevent the spread of the hornets. In Tennessee, the state apiarist called for traps to be set as a precaution despite the fact that there have not been any sightings of Asian giant hornets in the state. Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) requested that Texas A&M University spearhead a statewide initiative to protect agriculture and honey bees in the state. A task force of experts will provide science-based educational materials for citizens and beekeepers, work on detection efforts and assist with mitigation activities to protect honey bee populations.
In addition to protecting honey bees from the threat posed by hornets, states have taken other actions to address pollinator health in recent years:
- The Illinois General Assembly in 2019 enacted the Native Prairie and Forage Preference Act (HB 3092), which provides that every state agency should give preference to native plants that benefit pollinators.
- In 2020, the New Jersey Legislature considered several bills aimed at protecting pollinators, including a resolution to establish a Healthy Pollinators Task Force (AJR 102, Pending).
- A bill that directs the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to designate at least one native bee habitat area in all state parks and forests (A 3710, Pending).
The efforts taking place across the country are an important reminder that states and the public have a role to play in working collaboratively to protect pollinators and stop the spread of an invasive species.
For more information, see NCSL’s webpages on pollinator health and invasive species and the Environment and Natural Resources legislative tracking database.
Shelly Oren is a research analyst in NCSL's Energy, Environment and Transportation Program.