Killer Hornet?

Asian Giant Hornet, photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Agriculture.

SOUTHWEST IOWA - It's big, it's scary and it's got a painful sting: but it's not in Iowa yet, and may never get here. News of the arrival of the Asian Giant Hornet in Washington state has led to multiple news reports of the "killer hornet," more than two inches in length, but officials with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and a local area bee keeper say Iowans probably don't need to panic yet.

Yes: ISU Extension officials said the Asian Giant Hornet, Vespa mandarinia, does have a painful sting, is one of the world's largest hornets and could have a serious impact on honey bee populations.

"Washington State Department of Agriculture verified two reports of the AGH near Blaine, Washington in December, and a nest was discovered — and quickly destroyed — in British Columbia earlier this year. Entomologists in Washington are on alert, and to identify AGH they are surveying with traps and relying on reports from citizens," Extension officials said in an article about the hornet.

But Donna Brahms, of 3 Bee Farms Market and Orchard in Griswold, said it wasn't likely to get to Iowa very fast - if ever.

The hornets are more aggressive in fall, she said, and are looking for easy prey in the fall. They will go into bee hives, and Brahms said they could quickly decimate a hive, but locally there are other more common "predators" that could affect beehives.

Skunks, Brahms said, do eat honey and will occasionally get into a beehive, and mice have also been known to cause damage in a hive. For bee keepers who keep hives in a pasture area, cows may attempt to scratch themselves by rubbing on a hive, and could knock it down. In northern Iowa, the occasional wandering black bear that came down from Minnesota could also get into hives she said.

The most common pest that affects hives is actually much smaller - Varroa mites attach themselves to the bees and can deform them, which could cause bees to die, especially over the winter.

She said bee keepers needed to stay vigilant, checking for mites and treating for them.

"It's a big struggle," she said.

There is some good news for the year, for Iowa bee keepers. Brahms said that the state apiarist had reported due to this year's relatively mild winter, the estimated loss of colonies of bees would be about 20-30 percent, compared to much higher figures - around 70-80 percent - about a year ago after a more severe winter.

Randall Cass, an entomologist with ISU Extension and Outreach, says it's unclear if the hornet will find Midwestern habitats suitable, and he encourages Iowans to learn more about it, and to report other suspicious insects.