With reports that so-called “murder hornets,” officially known as Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia), have arrived in North America, the University of Guelph has an expert who can offer commentary.
Prof. Gard Otis is an expert in honeybee biology and insect ecology with U of G’s School of Environmental Sciences
While working on beekeeping projects in north central Vietnam on a project funded by the National Geographic Society, he studied a sister species hornet called Vespa soror. Both hornets are similar in size and behaviour — including their tendency to attack honeybee colonies.
Otis said most people who encounter single hornets when they are foraging away from their nest would not be in any danger, but if someone were to disturb their nest in the ground, they could come face to face with 500-1,000 of them at once.
“Disturbing that many hornets that are about the size of your thumb and that have about 20 times the venom of a honeybee sting, is not a good scene,” he said, adding: “I did get stung — once – and can vouch that is it extremely painful.”
Speaking to several CBC Radio stations across Canada on Tuesday, Otis said the hornets see honeybee hives as a food source.
“In late summer and fall they search for other social insects to eat, and honeybee colonies are perfect because there’s a massive amount of food in the a hive to sustain the hornet colony for many days,” he said. The wasps will arrive by the dozens at a honeybee colony and “just slaughter” the adult bees — not to eat them but to get at their honey and bee larvae.
He added he believes the hornet would not survive well in many colder parts of Canada but that it could establish itself in warmer areas, such as southern Ontario or the northeastern U.S.
Retiring after 36 years as a professor at U of G, Otis now serves as an adjunct professor in the School of Environmental Sciences and is available for interviews.
Prof. Gard Otis