Showing posts with label Asian giant hornet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Asian giant hornet. Show all posts

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Murder Hornets and Princeton's Cicada Killer

The scary reports about murder hornets offer an opportunity to write about invasive species and insects generally. "Murder hornet" is a nickname, but the insect's real name, Asian giant hornet, is not very reassuring. There have been some scary videos making the rounds. The NY Times article was less sensationalistic, and captured well the potential threat along with the actions being taken to counter it. Rutgers hastened to clarify that the insect isn't found in the northeastern U.S.. And it's still not clear whether the AGH (Asian giant hornet) has established a population in the northwest, and if so whether the population is still small enough to be eradicated.

Big insects are scary. One nightmare remembered from childhood was of an ant about two feet long. I had a memorable bike ride home one day with a wasp having perched on my shoulder. I decided to just let it sit there, and eventually it flew off. The more I learn, though, the less scary most insects become. Late last summer, I waded out into a lawn full of blue-winged wasps flying about, knowing they were harmless. Knowledge can lead to a gentle response to something seemingly dangerous in nature. When the fishhook-shaped thorn of a multiflora rose bush pricks the skin, the best thing to do is relax, move towards the shrub rather than away, calmly cut the stem to which the thorn is attached, or rotate so the thorn has a chance to slip back out of your clothing.

Learning more about the Asian giant hornet can bring at least a little reassurance. Along with the uncertainty of its establishment in the U.S., I heard via an invasives listserve that "AGH does not attack people unless it feels threatened", and though they do pose a threat to honey bees, they only "attack and kill other bees in the late summer when developing males and future queens need extra protein to complete their life cycle."

The largest wasp in the Princeton area is the cicada killer, which looks much scarier than it actually is. Like dragonflies, they can tackle insects in midair. Ten years ago, there was a colony of cicada killers living near the Princeton Community Pool. Cicada killers are large wasps in Princeton that dive-bomb cicadas in mid-flight, then haul them back to their underground nests to use as food for their young. They pose little danger, but the colony was exterminated by the parks department because the wasps alarmed people walking by in their bathing suits. (Photo is a dramatization featuring our local cicada killer and an unknown actor.)

While pointing out that some threatening looking insects can be benign, I've also long advocated for action on invasive species. As introduced plants like lesser celandine and porcelainberry spread their smothering growth across Princeton's open space and lawns, there is an opportunity to keep them out of some areas through proactive action. It's been very hard to get people to think strategically, however.

The Asian giant hornet is at least being taken seriously. Quick action could prevent it from getting established in the northwestern U.S., though usually an introduced species is already established by the time anyone sees it in the wild.

As with COVID-19, there are questions as to how the hornet would adapt to climate in the U.S. The L.A. Times questioned whether the AGH would adapt to California's cool summers and warm winters.

Some introduced insects become enduring pests, like Asian tiger mosquitoes that bite annoyingly during the daytime, and the Emerald ash borer that has decimated ash trees. On the other hand, we hear little about the killer bees that were touted as such a big threat in the 1980s. The best news would be that the Asian giant hornet hasn't become established after all.