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Will Murder Hornets Become Invasive Species? A&S Biology Professor Weighs In
Officials in Washington state have caught “murder hornets” for the first time. The Asian giant hornet has been an environmental concern all spring and summer. They measure more than 2 inches long and can be especially dangerous to honeybees. Officials are working to prevent a full-on infestation.
Kari Segraves is a professor of biology at Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. She shares thoughts about invasive species and whether these hornets will become problematic.
“At this point, murder hornets are only considered a non-native species meaning that they aren’t native to the U.S. and they haven’t caused significant harm. A species is considered invasive when it causes substantive economic and/or ecological harm or strongly affects human populations. Zebra mussels and kudzu are good examples of species that are invasive. Both have drastically changed the ecology of the places they invaded and have resulted in billions of dollars of losses. The question that scientists will have to address with the murder hornets is whether they can become established and spread enough to cause harm to humans, the economy and the environment.
“Whether a species becomes invasive is depends on a number of factors that can be hard to predict. For example, a species might become invasive because of release from predation in the non-native range or because they are stronger competitors than the native species. Some traits have also been associated with invasiveness such as fast population growth and having a generalized diet. Unfortunately, these are not certain indicators, making invasiveness difficult to predict. As a result, whether murder hornets will be successful in Washington is uncertain. There are some indications that they could become a problem. First, they come from temperate and tropical regions of Asia, suggesting that they may be adapted to the climate of the Pacific Northwest. Second, there is an abundant and susceptible food source available: honeybees. On the other hand, they do have relatively specialized diets, and scientists have developed methods for trapping them, suggesting that we could eradicate them before they can become established.
“At this point, honeybee farmers should be vigilant about looking for murder hornets and notify their state agricultural department if they see one. This might be a species invasion story that has a happy ending.”
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