A weekly blog for all things conservation
By: Dan Rhodes, Education Coordinator
Over the last couple of years there’s been a lot of press about a new invasive aggressive bee that has been spotted in North America called the ‘murder’ hornet. These very large giant hornets from Asia are indeed a species of concern for many reasons, but how can they be identified if seen, are there other similar species out there right now, and are there any bees that shouldn’t be added to an ‘America’s most wanted’ poster?
The answers to these questions might surprise you. According to Penn State Cooperative Extension, there are as many as 4000 species of wild bees in North America and more than 300 different species in Pennsylvania. Of the 300 species of wild bees in PA, only a small handful of species including certain types of wasps and hornets are typically aggressive, because most species of bees don’t create large colonies that require defensive behavior, including painful stings to anyone getting too close.
Although many people try to kill as many bees as their flyswatter or can of pesticide will allow; bees of many shapes and sizes are extremely important to the health, well-being, and survival of mankind! This is because, among other reasons, most wild bee species in the United States perform important pollination duties that are critical to the success and productivity of our agricultural products. An estimated 1/3 of ALL AGRICULTURAL production in the United States annually is completely dependent on pollinators such as bees, (https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/pa/plantsanimals/?cid=nrcs142p2_018171) while the value of bee pollination ANNUALLY for crop production in Pennsylvania alone is estimated at a mind blowing 60,000,000 dollars!(http://www.pastatebeekeepers.org/pdf/ValueofhoneybeesinPA3.pdf) An additional $357,000,000 dollars in annual profits nationwide for beekeepers and apiaries can be added to these figures once the estimated 175,000,000 pounds of honey and 3,900,000 pounds of beeswax products are added to this dollar figure. Love them or hate them, bees are IMPORTANT!
Now that we’ve covered the ‘good’ bees, lets touch on bees that most people would consider ‘bad’ and ‘scary’. Even aggressive bees with painful stings such as traditional wasps and hornets perform some important and valuable pollination services to crops, trees, flowers, and other plants. This being said, there are very few if any positive points that can be made when discussing threats posed by legitimately dangerous and destructive giant Asian ‘murder’ hornets. Currently, there have been no sightings of murder hornets outside of the Pacific Northwestern United States. This is good news for us but bad for Washington state because giant Asian ‘murder’ hornets are intense predators of western honeybees and have an extremely toxic sting that can even cause mortality or severe organ damage even to people who are not at all allergic to bee stings. Even a small handful of large, lethal murder hornets with 1 3/4”-2” long bodies, thick exoskeletons, ¼” long stingers and strong biting jaws can completely decimate an entire colony of tens of thousands of honeybees in just a few hours.
Other non-native bees such as the European giant hornet are commonly seen in Bradford County and across PA. Dealing with the European giant hornet does require some caution as their nests are large, and their stings are painful; but these bees are relatively harmless if left alone. Most bees that are misidentified to be Asian giant hornets are giant European hornets or other species. See the photo included for reference of the relative sizes and colorations of some of these species.
Either way, after reading this, I hope you have learned a few basic facts about why not all bees are bad, even though most bees do deserve to be kept at a safe and respectful distance!
The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely. You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.
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Various staff at the Bradford County Conservation District