La Crosse experts say Asian giant hornet not likely to establish in Midwest

Honeybees may be at risk if giant hornets can survive Midwest winters

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – The food on our table is produced with the help of insects like honeybees. A new insect discovered in the United States has the potential to put those important pollinators at risk.

Washington State was where COVID-19 began in the U.S. Now the state is in the headlines for another pest we can actually see and if it establishes itself. Its sting will be the last of our worries.

“This species of hornet actually does a coordinated attack,” said Ted Wilson, chair of the biology department at Viterbo University.

The hornets can grow up to inches long. They can deliver a sting some have described as painful as a hot nail.

Experts at UW La Crosse and Viterbo say the Asian giant hornet can turn into a catastrophic problem for our nation’s finest pollinators. UWL biology professor Barrett Klein said one of these wasps will leave its scent next to a beehive so it can find it again. When the scout returns with several of its sisters a honeybee colony doesn’t stand a chance.

“They decapitate bee after bee after bee,” Klein said. “One recording showed that they were able to decapitate 40 per minute.”

This earns them the reputation of the “murder hornet.”

Wilson said the question is whether or not this insect could survive our winter.

“Right now where they live there are relatively mild winters,” Wilson said.

Wilson and Klein say it can be easy to confuse this wasp with others.

“In fact, the biggest hornet we have is the cicada killer wasp.” That wasp can be two inches long as well he said.

Bald-faced hornets, for example, are common to La Crosse and are actually important in the balance of nature.

The number of giant hornets discovered is low. Klein said it’s a long shot for this species to survive in the U.S.

“We have to keep in mind that only two individuals, which are dead now, were discovered in two spots in the state of Washington.”

Entomologists are trying to keep this insect from forming its own colonies because whatever affects bees will also affect what we eat.

Experts say Asian honeybees are able to swarm hornets and actually cook them alive with body heat. However, American honeybees do not have that instinct.