Officials in Georgia have identified a yellow-legged hornet in the state, marking the first detection of this invasive species—alive and in the wild—in the United States.
While in general, the insect is not a big threat to humans, experts say it could harm the local environment and economy.
“The hornet feeds on a variety of insects, including honeybees and other native pollinators,” Tyler Harper, Georgia’s agriculture commissioner, said at a press conference Tuesday, per Atlanta News First’s Bridget Spencer and Jennifer Lifsey. “If allowed to establish in the state of Georgia and U.S., this pest could threaten honeybee production, native pollinators and the agricultural industry in the state of Georgia.”
A beekeeper in Savannah discovered the hornet and reported it to the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA), according to a statement from the department. Officials are asking the public to report any sightings of the hornet in the state to the GDA.
Yellow-legged hornets are native to Southeast Asia but have been accidentally introduced to Europe, Japan and South Korea, where they are now invasive, per a 2022 paper in the Journal for Nature Conservation. The insect appeared in France in 2004, and from there, it has become established in most of Europe; it has also invaded parts of the Middle East.
The adult hornets are a little less than an inch long. Their legs are at least partly yellow, but the colors of their bodies and heads can vary, per the GDA. Yellow-legged hornets build above-ground, egg-shaped paper nests, often in trees, that host 6,000 workers on average. Their nests might also be in bushes, shrubs or on building rooftops. Queens typically lay eggs in April, and workers become active in June, with nests growing from spring to fall.
After the GDA announced the hornet sighting, employees of the Savannah Bee Company, a store selling products from beekeepers, realized they had been seeing yellow-legged hornets in their gardens for about a week, reports Ryan Tisminezky for WTOC.
“From what I just saw today, I am really worried about them attacking the bee population,” Felicia Renick, the safety manager at Savannah Bee Company, tells WTOC. “For the past few hours, we’ve also noticed them targeting bees that are flying and grabbing them right out of the sky, unfortunately.”
The hornets eat a number of arthropods, preferring honeybees, and will even eat dead animals. As a result, they could pose a danger to native pollinators, honey production and the agricultural industry. Honeybees alone pollinate crops worth a total of $15 billion across the country each year. The GDA says they are currently planning how to trap, track and eradicate yellow-legged hornets from Georgia.
The department has created a form through which people can report yellow-legged hornet sightings. The GDA asks people to include their contact information, the date and location of the sighting, the location and height of the nest and the direction the hornet flew away. They also for people to include a photograph if one can be safely taken, or a description of the insect and any hive loss or damage.
Many native species look similar to the yellow-legged hornet, the GDA notes. And the department asks people to exercise caution around the insects.
If anyone outside of Georgia thinks they’ve seen a yellow-legged hornet, they should report it to the local Department of Agriculture, the GDA says.