'They are pretty nasty': Suburban beekeepers bracing for arrival of murder hornets

  • Asian giant hornets, more ominously known as "murder hornets," have appeared in the state of Washington, where they can wipe out entire honeybee colonies, decapitating their prey. Suburban beekeepers say they're bracing for the flying predators eventual arrival here.

    Asian giant hornets, more ominously known as "murder hornets," have appeared in the state of Washington, where they can wipe out entire honeybee colonies, decapitating their prey. Suburban beekeepers say they're bracing for the flying predators eventual arrival here. Quinlyn Baine/Washington State Department of Agriculture via AP

 
 
Updated 5/6/2020 12:51 PM

As if we don't have enough to worry about, here come the "murder hornets."

While the Asian giant hornets so far been limited to the West Coast, local beekeepers already are worried about the impact the predators could have on their hives of honeybees if they migrate across the country.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The buzz is growing about Vespa mandarinia, the official name of the flying menace.

"They are pretty nasty and they can devastate a bee hive," said Bill Whitney of City Bee Savers in Wheaton. "It's not conclusive that they will establish here, but they probably will."

First seen in the United States last year in the state of Washington, the often two-inch-long murder hornets kill dozens of people each year in Japan. As dangerous as they are to humans, they can wipe out entire hives of honeybees, decapitating their prey with their mandibles.

That's an obvious concern for beekeepers who work year-round to maintain the safety of their hives.

"There's a lot of people concerned right now but we just don't know much," said George Ingersoll, who owns 16 hives on 45 acres in Batavia and is president of the Fox Valley Beekeepers Association.

"With everything else going on, it's one of those things where we're getting caught a little off-guard," he added. "We just need to figure out what the plan of action is."

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Ingersoll and Whitney said many honeybees in the area are trucked in from California in crates, making it possible for the murder hornets to "hitch a ride" across the country, similar to how the emerald ash borer arrived here and wiped out ash trees.

Each honeybee box contains eight to 10 frames that hold thousands of honeybee cells preparing to hatch. Ingersoll described it as an "all-you-can-eat" buffet for the hornets.

For 89-year-old John Hansen, a past president of the Cook-DuPage Beekeepers Association, the potential for a murder hornet crisis is just the latest concern for the industry. From the tracheal mites of the 1970s to the small hive beetles of the 1990s, he's seen a bit of everything through the years.

"I'm trying to retire but I'll probably always have a hive or two," Hansen said with a laugh. "Something like this comes along every couple of years. You've always got something to deal with."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That's the biggest question, how to deal with the murder hornets if and when they arrive.

Ingersoll smashes normal hornets, wasps and yellow jackets trying to get at his hives. But he's looking into reducers that shrink the size of a hive entrance, a hole small enough to allow honeybees to come and go but not big enough for the murder hornets to enter.

Considering the murder hornets are just now being seen on the West Coast, there's still time to prepare.

But it's definitely on the radar for local beekeepers.

"We're not going to see it in the Chicago area any time soon," Whitney said. "It'll take generations (of hornets) to move this far."

• Daily Herald staff writer Dave Oberhelman contributed to this report.

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