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Alien invasion: Yellow-legged hornet spotted in the U.S. for the first time

In a striking discovery, the invasive yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina) has been spotted in the United States for the first time. The Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) made the unsettling announcement earlier this week, marking a significant event in the nation’s ecological landscape.

The confirmation of a living yellow-legged hornet in Georgia was made through a coordinated effort involving the GDA, the USDA, and the University of Georgia. This marks the first time a live specimen of this non-native hornet species has been identified in the wild in the United States.

Potential implications 

The potential implications of this discovery are substantial. If allowed to establish in Georgia, the yellow-legged hornet could threaten honey production, native pollinators, and even the state’s most crucial industry – agriculture.

In an urgent statement, Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper emphasized the importance of community vigilance, stating: “Georgians play an important role helping GDA identify unwanted, non-native pests, and I want to thank the beekeeper who reported his sighting to us, as well as our partners at the University of Georgia and USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service for working swiftly to confirm its identity.”

“Our experienced team of professionals will continue to assess the situation and are working directly with USDA APHIS and UGA to trap, track, and eradicate the yellow-legged hornet in Georgia.”

First sighting in Savannah 

The yellow-legged hornet’s arrival in Georgia was first noticed by a beekeeper in Savannah earlier this month. Following the beekeeper’s report to the GDA, the insect was identified as the yellow-legged hornet by the University of Georgia on August 9, 2023.

This social wasp species, known for constructing large egg-shaped paper nests, is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Southeast Asia. It has already spread to most parts of Europe, the Middle East, and other parts of Asia where it is not indigenous.

“The foundation of this response is the strong relationship USDA has developed with the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the University of Georgia over many years,” said Dr. Mark Davidson, Deputy Administrator of APHIS’ Plant Protection and Quarantine Program.

“Our partnership is already paying off as our teams come together to apply the science and technology in our response planning. The public can also play a critical role by reporting potential sightings of the hornet to help eradicate this pest.”

Eradication plans in motion

The plan to control and ultimately eradicate the yellow-legged hornet in Georgia is already in motion. Experienced scientists from the GDA’s Pest Program are working with USDA and academic experts to develop an operational strategy that involves trapping, tracking, and eradication. The response also includes DNA analysis to determine if the hornet is related to European populations.

In the meantime, the public is urged to play an active part in this battle against an invasive species. The GDA’s website offers an accessible form to report potential sightings and cautions against interacting with these potentially dangerous insects.

The discovery of the yellow-legged hornet in the United States opens a new chapter in the ever-evolving story of our ecosystem, reminding us once again of the delicate balance between nature and human intervention.

More about yellow-legged hornets

The yellow-legged hornet, scientifically named Vespa velutina, is an insect that has gained significant attention in recent years due to its invasive nature in regions outside its native habitat. Here’s a more in-depth look into the characteristics, behavior, and impact of the yellow-legged hornet:

Origin and distribution

The yellow-legged hornet is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Southeast Asia, including areas of China, northern India, and the Indonesian archipelago.

In recent years, it has spread to several parts of Europe, such as France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, and even the UK. Its appearance in these regions is of concern due to its invasive nature and potential to harm native ecosystems.

Physical characteristics

The yellow-legged hornet is noticeably smaller than the European hornet.

As its name suggests, it has characteristic yellow legs. The body is dark brown or black with a yellow band near the rear, and the face is primarily orange with two yellow bands.

Behavior and habitat

It is a social wasp species that constructs large, egg-shaped paper nests. These nests are typically found above ground, often in trees, and can house thousands of workers.

The hornet is a formidable predator, particularly of honeybees. It waits outside bee hives to capture returning honeybees, which they decapitate and bring back to their nest to feed their larvae.

Impact on ecosystems

In areas where it has become invasive, the yellow-legged hornet poses a threat to honeybees and, consequently, honey production. This can also have indirect effects on pollination and local agriculture.

Its predatory behavior can lead to the decline of native bee populations. In some regions, it’s responsible for significant losses in honeybee colonies.

Human interaction

While the yellow-legged hornet is primarily a threat to honeybees, it can pose a risk to humans if provoked. Like other hornets and wasps, it can deliver a painful sting. For individuals who are allergic, a sting can be particularly dangerous.

Given the potential ecological and economic implications of the yellow-legged hornet’s spread, it’s essential for affected regions to remain vigilant and proactive in their efforts to monitor and control its population.


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