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Animal invaderAsian Giant hornet threatened in America the Bee colonies

They bite off the head of bees and destroy entire bee colonies: the Asian giant hornets. They are usually only found in China and Japan. Now they have been spotted for the first time in Washington. The American bees cannot fight back.

Giant hornets were probably brought in as stowaways in shipping containers from Asia to North America. Not only the American beekeepers are now ringing the alarm bells. The insects are also dangerous to humans.

The Asian giant hornet is the largest hornet in the world. It becomes up to 5.5 centimeters long and has a wingspan of up to nine centimeters. This makes it about five times the size of a bee.

Hornets also live in colonies with a queen and many workers. Giant hornets are so-called predatory insects. They prefer to eat: bees.

"In the USA they are also called 'Killer Hornets' because they attack bee colonies with great brutality and enormous efficiency."
Mario Ludwig, Deutschlandfunk Nova animal expert

And they do it not only brutally, but also very quickly. First, the hornets bite off the bees' heads with their sharp mouthparts and then feed the trunk to their offspring - or eat it themselves.

A single giant hornet can kill up to 40 bees in a minute. A group of 30 hornets can wipe out a colony of 30,000 bees in just 4 hours, explains Deutschlandfunk-Nova animal expert Mario Ludwig. This is why this animal invader is very much feared by beekeepers in the USA.

Western bees have no defense mechanism

Even with their sting, the bees cannot prevail against their huge enemies. Because with their relatively small poisonous sting, they cannot get through the armor of the hornets.

The eastern honeybees native to Japan, on the other hand, have a technique in their repertoire to deal with the giant hornets.

Defeat the enemy with "heatballing"

When the Eastern honeybees discover one of the giant hornets in their hive, hundreds of them rush at the enemy and form a tight knot around the hornet with their bodies, explains Mario Ludwig.

This increases the hornet's body temperature until it dies from heat. At least that's what they thought so far.

Recent scientific findings show that the increased carbon dioxide concentration in the heat globe also contributes to the hornet's death. The western honeybee, which is widespread in Europe and North America, is not familiar with this strategy.

"In Japan between 30 and 50 people die every year from the stings of the Asian giant hornet. And that is by no means all allergy sufferers."
Mario Ludwig, Deutschlandfunk Nova animal expert

But it is not only for the western honey bees that an encounter with the giant insect can be fatal. The poison of the Asian giant hornet is so potent that around 50 stings are enough to cause fatal kidney damage in a person, says Mario Ludwig.

In addition, the hornet's sting is around half a centimeter long. You can use it to pierce a beekeeping suit.

The pain caused by the sting of this hornet is tremendous. But: The giant hornets are actually not particularly aggressive. You shouldn't get too close to a hornet stick.

Traps are supposed to prevent spread

In order to tackle the invaders, they now want to set up special traps in the USA. For this purpose, vessels filled with a mixture of rice wine and orange juice should be hung in trees to attract hornets and other hymenoptera.

The entomologists want to find out in which areas the hornets already occur and target them with insecticides.

By the way: The giant hornet has not yet been seen in Germany. But here, too, there is an invasive species of hornet: the Asian hornet. However, it is much smaller, less toxic and not as dangerous.