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Clemson University: Be vigilant for yellow-legged hornet after Savannah discovery

Ross Norton //September 7, 2023//

Clemson University: Be vigilant for yellow-legged hornet after Savannah discovery

Ross Norton //September 7, 2023//

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Clemson University officials are urging South Carolina beekeepers and the public to be on the lookout for yellow-legged hornets after the invasive insect was discovered in the Savannah area.

Clemson University and agriculture officials are asking the public to be on the lookout for the yellow-legged hornet to help prevent a threat to Lowcountry crops. (Photo/Provided)The Georgia Department of Agriculture is reporting that a Savannah-area beekeeper found an unusual hornet on his property and reported it to the GDA. On August 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the University of Georgia’s identification of this insect as a yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina). This is the first time a live yellow-legged hornet has been found in the United States

While the yellow-legged hornet — not to be confused with the Asian giant hornet — is no more harmful to humans than other hornets, it can have a devastating impact on both managed and wild bees, according to a Clemson news release.

Although the hornet has not been detected in South Carolina, Clemson’s Department of Plant Industry Apiary Inspection Program — the regulatory agency charged with protecting the state’s beekeeping industry — in collaboration with Clemson Cooperative Extension Apiculture and Pollinator Program, will begin monitoring Lowcountry locations through an elaborate trapping system, the university stated in the news release.

The program’s coordinator, Brad Cavin, is also urging the state’s beekeepers and public to stay vigilant.

“While we are spearheading a robust trapping protocol in the South Carolina Lowcountry, beekeepers, and the public both play an important role in our efforts to minimize any potential impact from this invasive pest. That’s why we are asking for public assistance with monitoring for and reporting unusual hornet activity, especially around honeybee hives,” said Cavin.

People who suspect they have found a yellow-legged hornet are urged to report their findings here.  

Clemson will work with federal officials to confirm suspected specimens and respond to active hornet colonies if they are located.

The yellow-legged hornet is native to Southeast Asia and has established itself in most of Europe and areas of the Middle East and Asia. The hornet builds egg-shaped paper nests above ground and often in trees. The nest can be large and house an average of 6,000 workers. This exotic hornet may be confused with several native insects, including the cicada killer wasp, the bald-faced hornet, paper wasps, queen yellowjackets, wood wasps and robber flies, but is distinguished from these other stinging insects by its larger size.

The public can visit Clemson’s website to learn more about the yellow-legged hornet.

“The yellow legged hornet is a predatory insect that has been reported to attack western honeybee colonies and has become a serious pest of beekeeping operations where it has been introduced,” said Ben Powell, who directs Clemson Cooperative Extension’s Apiary and Pollinator program. “Establishment of this exotic pest in the U.S. would pose a significant threat to our already embattled beekeeping enterprises.”

The yellow-legged hornet is not the Asian giant hornet that received a lot of media attention — in part because of its nickname, the “murder hornet” — in 2020 when it appeared on the West Coast. That one posed little danger to South Carolina, Clemson experts said at the time.

Although the Asian giant hornet was not an immediate threat in South Carolina, it did raise concerns for Palmetto State beekeepers who already were battling other invasive pests, said Ben Powell, Clemson Extension Service apiculture and pollinator specialist.

“Annual colony losses have increased after other exotic pests such as small hive beetles and Varroa mites were introduced into the United States,” he said in a news release. “Introduction of another hive pest could adversely impact apiculture in South Carolina and Asian giant hornets are just one of many overseas pests that regulators hope to keep out of South Carolina. Asian hornets (Vespa velutina), closely related to the Asian Giant Hornet, invaded western Europe several years ago and caused significant damage to honey bee colonies, and the concern is that Asian giant hornets could cause similar problems here were they to spread.”