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Specialists protect Kentucky bees from 'murder' hornet

Murder Hornets
Posted at 7:28 AM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 07:28:33-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The first Asian Hornet, better known as a "murder" hornet, was spotted in the U.S. for the first time in late 2019. Since then, Kentucky bee specialists have been taking precautions in the event the devastating hornet travels to the Commonwealth.

Sarah Preston runs the Certified Kentucky Honey Program for the Kentucky State Beekeepers Association. She explained how the Asian Hornet received its nickname.

"When an Asian Hornet actually gets into a honeybee hive, they can eat almost 40 bees a minute," she said. "So they can really go in there and just start devastating. They'll eat bees; they'll eat larvae; they'll destroy the comb system that's within the hive."

So far in the U.S., the hornet has only been spotted in Washington, but Preston said it could travel 60 miles a day, which means some of them could have moved to other states very quickly.

"We have already been tracking them here in Kentucky. Our state apiarist started putting out traps last year in order to be able to track them. Not because she really thought it was an immediate danger," said Preston. "She puts them out around Lexington specifically because there's a lot of international and domestic travel, and she thought possibly they could attach to different shipment items, and then relocate here to Kentucky. So she's actually on top of tracking, where these Hornets are going."

The honeybee population has been at risk since the 1980s when the varroa mite started infesting and killing off colonies.

Preston explained, "We're starting to slowly raise the amount of colonies we have, but we are far below the numbers that we had in the 1950s, or even before then. So we still have a long way to go to be able to recover our honeybee population."

She said a lack of honeybees would be devastating to our economy as "a third of all U.S. crops are based off of honeybees. And that's not native bees included that's honeybees by themselves. So we've adapted our agriculture to be dependent on honeybees. So if the honeybee dies out, we will lose a lot of our food supply."

Regarding the "murder" hornet, there is one specific characteristic that helps identify them. Preston said, "it's looking for a very large hornet coming in out of the ground. So your European Hornets and your Bald Faced Hornets actually nest up in trees. So that would be one of the characteristic differences, so if you see a very large wasp hornet looking thing coming out of the ground, that would be an indication that this probably an Asian Hornet."

Although the risk in Kentucky remains low, if you think you spotted an Asian Hornet, call the State Apiarist or the University of Kentucky Entomology Department to help you confirm the hornet's identity.