Recently, a beekeeper in Savannah, Georgia, discovered a hornet she didn’t quite recognize. After a call to the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA), they were able to identify it as a yellow-legged hornet. A nearby store selling products from beekeepers realized they had been seeing yellow-legged hornets in their gardens for about a week as well. Why is all this significant? They’re not exactly from around here.
Yellow-legged hornets are native to Southeast Asia but were accidentally introduced to Europe, Japan, and South Korea in 2002. They are now an invasive species there. In 2004, they found their way to France and then spread throughout Europe. The yellow-legged hornet has even invaded parts of the Middle East. They seem to be able to thrive (and multiply) anywhere!
Should We Worry About the Yellow-Legged Hornet?
The one found in Georgia marks 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 – yellow-legged hornet stings are rare unless you’re bothering the hornet’s nest – the fact about this hornet is that experts say it could harm the local environment and economy.
This particular hornet eats a number of arthropods and will even eat dead animals, but they prefer honeybees. They can actually target a bee and grab it midflight. If this hornet finds a home in Georgia, it will undoubtedly expand to nearby states. The vast majority of plant species – almost 90% – rely on pollinators like the honeybee to reproduce. This pest could threaten the agricultural industry in Georgia and beyond.
We asked our Division Technical Director and Board Certified Entomologist, Jennifer Brumfield, about it. She said, “The introduction of the yellow-legged hornet creates challenges for both honeybees and humans. With its predation on honeybees and potential stings to people, a strategic and coordinated approach is essential to mitigate its impact on pollinators and ensure the safety of our communities.”
What Does the Yellow-Legged Hornet Look Like?
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. They can look like a black hornet with yellow legs, have a yellow face, look fuzzy, and be an alarming size. You probably won’t get them mistaken for wasps, but you also don’t want to get close enough up to them to make sure! Many native species of these hornets look similar to the yellow-legged hornet, so don’t just assume. 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.
How Can I Get Rid of Yellow-Legged Hornets?
The GDA has created a form through which people can report yellow-legged hornet sightings. So, right now it’s more about finding out where they are rather than getting rid of them. 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 ask people to include a photograph if one can be safely taken, or a description of the insect and any damage they may have done.
Remember the murder hornet scare of 2022? That turned out to be a total flop. But the spotted lanternfly came, saw, and conquered! Well, they at least made themselves at home. Let’s hope the yellow-legged hornet is a flop instead.