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Jan. 3, 2022

2021 Asian Giant Hornet Update with Sven-Erik Spichiger (S4, E29)

2021 Asian Giant Hornet Update with Sven-Erik Spichiger (S4, E29)

This is the third time we’ve talked with Sven-Erik Spichiger about the Asian Giant Hornet in the state of Washington, and this time he shares some history, enlightens us with the discoveries they’ve made so far, what they managed to accomplish...


This is the third time we’ve talked with Sven-Erik Spichiger about the Asian Giant Hornet in the state of Washington, and this time he shares some history, enlightens us with the discoveries they’ve made so far, what they managed to accomplish this past season, and what they plan for next year. All this to keep this pest, or better, get rid of this pest, before it becomes established in the Pacific Northwest.

The good folks in Washington have spent their third season searching for that newest pest – sometimes called The Murder Hornet – with some amount of success, and a lot of good experience and a host of new techniques for finding, capturing and measuring what this new pest is up to.

At The EntranceThe AGH was originally found in British Columbia in 2019. In 2020 Citizen Scientists, USDA, APHIS and Washington State Entomologists set up thousands of traps in the northern part of the state. They captured one nest. But they began to refine their equipment, condense the areas they were looking in, and get more people interested in helping them find more.

In 2021 they again set thousands of traps and caught several, used better tracking tags for live captured hornets, and began looking at where they were living, and what they were eating. Alder trees are popular, but so are holes in the ground at the base of trees.

The researchers observed the AGH favored the paper wasp nests of the PNW. The wasp nests are a great source of food, and figuring out how the AGH attacked, destroyed and then ate their wasp lunch was an interesting find. They also determined the WA State AGH was genetically related to AGH in Korea.

In 2022, more citizen scientists will help out, and Washington researchers will worth with counterparts in Korea to study the native population of these creatures. This will provide better insight to the biology, diet, nesting habits and more, of the AGH of Washington State.

Oops... sorry, we couldn't find the photo of Sven-Erik eating a larvae... dipped or otherwise.

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Transcript

S4, E29 – 2021 Asian Giant Hornet Update with Sven-Erik Spichiger

[Music]

Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.

Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.

Introduction: Hey, Jeff, and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. It's a good time to think about honey bee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honey bees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs.

No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com

Jeff: Thank you, Sherry, and thank you Global Patties. Hey, everybody, happy new year. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor's support, and we know you'd rather we get right to talking about beekeeping. However, our super sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen. From the hosting fees to the software, to the hardware, the microphones, the recorders, they enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast.

Bee Culture has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873.

Subscribe to Bee Culture today. We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms as sponsor of this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Learn more on our Season 2, Episode 9 podcast with editor, Kirsten Traynor, and from visiting www.2millionblossoms.com and that is with the number two. You can also listen to the 2 Million Blossoms podcast we have available. It's on her website and wherever you download and stream your shows. Hey, everybody, welcome to the first show of 2022. As soon as I can get my mouth working, we'll have a good year.

Speaking of which, we have some great shows lined up for you this year, starting off with today's show, but more of that in a second. Hey, Kim, Happy New Year, buddy.

Kim: Yes. Let's hope it's different than last year.

Jeff: Oh yes. Hey, before we get to this year, how does the American Honey Producers Beekeeper of the Year celebrate their New Year's Eve? I just want to know.

Kim: We spent a quiet evening at home all by ourselves, avoiding the crowds, avoiding all of the things that are floating around outside, and just being glad that we don't have to be a part of it this year.

Jeff: Fair enough. We do have an exciting show lined up, but before we get to that, what do you think about this coming year? You have any predictions, any thoughts about 2022?

Kim: I've been doing some research for a couple of articles I'm preparing to write. Basically, what I'm looking at is what's climate change going to do to bees, and beekeeping, and beekeepers. It's going to be more than you think, and it's going to be sooner than you think according to what I'm reading. No matter where you are listening to this, watch your temperatures in the spring.

If your early flowers come in too early, you're going to have a problem with maybe not enough food later in the spring. If it's too dry or too wet where you are, now that be nectar flow or your bees may not be able to fly, the world is changing out there. Slowly and a little bit at a time, but it's changing. This year is different than last year. Climate change is going to be the biggest thing I think the next several years and people are going to have to get it fixed.

Jeff: Yes. Climate change is something else. Where I'm sitting here with a yard full of snow, and it's been snowing off and on since Christmas Eve, and you're sitting there what? Is it barely 40 there today?

Kim: Yes. It's just about 40 today, and this coming week it's going to be up over 50.

Jeff: Wow. It's global weirding, right? You have my weather, and I have your weather. Hey, on today's episode, again we have a Sven-Erik Spichiger. He's here to talk about the 2021 season of the Asian Giant Hornet.

Kim: Yes, I'm looking forward to see how well they were at finding the spread if there was any of this creature out there. Let's hope you guys just keep that thing out there, okay?

Jeff: The state of Washington did a really good job last couple of seasons and last year especially. They had a Facebook page, and there were lots of people checking that every day and contributing to it. You could keep pretty much up to date on what they were finding, but to have it all pulled together after much of the analysis has been done, talking with one of the lead researchers and field people. It's going to be really good to have him on and talk about it.

Kim: See what they've got planned for this coming season.

Jeff: Yes. All right, let's get right to the talk was Sven-Erik Spichiger, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.

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Jeff: Hey, everybody, and while you're on the Strong Microbials site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, the regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates. Hey, everybody, welcome back. Sitting across a virtual zoom table right now, we want to welcome back Sven-Erik Spichiger of the Washington State Department of Agriculture. As you may recall, he's been on our show for two other occasions, both in April. First of 2020, and then 2021, talking about the Asian Giant Hornet in Washington state. Sven, Welcome back to Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Sven-Erik Spichiger: Thank you. Great to be here again.

Kim: Good to see you again, Sven. I'm hoping you don't have anything to tell us. [chuckles]

Sven: Mostly good news actually.

Kim: Oh, that's encouraging. Okay.

Jeff: Let's start the year off right then. I know from being a beekeeper from Washington state, especially on the side of the mountains, one of the first questions, if not the second question I always receive is, "Are you worried about the murder hornets?" I always correct them, saying, "I'm sorry, it's the Asian Giant Hornet, please," and then go on. I'm glad to have you on the show as the expert. You've faced them head to head and have lived to tell about it, so, let's get right into it. Why don't you introduce yourself, and who you are, and what you do?

Sven: Sure. My name is Sven-Erik Spichiger. I'm the Managing Entomologist for the Washington State Department of Agriculture, which means I get to oversee great programs like the Asian Giant Hornet program, the Invasive Moth program which used to be called Gypsy moth, and is no longer called that. Also, a Japanese beetle and some other fun things we have going on in the state. Obviously, the center of attention has been Asian Giant Hornet for the past couple of seasons.

Jeff: Just a quick sidetrack because I used to spend my summers growing up in Ohio, picking the Japanese beetles off my grandfather's rose bushes. We got paid by the Japanese beetle for picking them off his roses, so it's interesting to see them making a comeback, I guess, in a way.

Sven: Yes. Unfortunately, a rather sizable infestation down in Grandview, and we're one of those states who, prior to that, never actually had it here before.

Jeff: All right.

Kim: Surprise.

Jeff: Good. Asian Giant Hornet, let's do a little bit of history. How did they show up in the United States or in North America, and how did they make their way to Washington?

Sven: Of course, Asian Giant Hornet was first detected in Vancouver, British Columbia, near the town of Nanaimo in 2019, where an actual nest was located. Some beekeepers actually got together and helped take it out. Obviously, raised a few eyebrows for us because when something is new to the country, why are beekeepers aware of it already? It's because it was attacking beehives very early on.

In fact, in 2019, we also had beehives being attacked here in Washington state, just on the other side of the border, where we had a beekeeper of Ukrainian descent in the town of Blaine, who had five hives actually killed by Asian Giant Hornets in October of 2019. He actually collected a few specimens, but unfortunately, we didn't find that out until June of the next year in 2020. We also had another beekeeper turn a sample into Washington State University's extension to report that. That was also in October of 2019.

We got our first official detection here where some folks had taken a photograph, posted it on Reddit, and then were given the correct instruction to alert the Department of Agriculture. That happened on December 8th of 2019. That is very late in the year. We're just past December 8th now, and then we haven't actually seen anything fine here last year in 2021 until it petered out at the end of October in 2021, which is just a little earlier than what we saw in 2019, then what we were able to do in 2020. Of course, in 2020, we responded to this by doing a massive trapping effort, both by ourselves and with a huge amount of help from citizen scientists.

People actually went out, paid for the supplies, used their own time. Mailed things in, or used our drop-off locations to actually run traps all over the state. This was a huge response that we so greatly appreciate because this allowed us to 2021, really focus in on the area that we felt was probably still infested. That was the area in and around the nest that we eliminated in 2020. Sure enough, that's unfortunately where we got our hits, was right near the Canadian border to the East of Blaine, Washington. For those who aren't from Washington or are not familiar, this is about two hours north of Seattle.

Right at the Canadian border and kind of a rugged area. It's very rural, lots of Himalayan blackberry, which, again, if you're not from Washington, this is a wonderful invasive species we have that just grows much taller than me. This actually became a problem for us this year. Last year, in 2020, we learned how to tag a hornet and follow it back to its nest. That was quite a production. Eventually, we prevailed in the end. We found a single hornet nest in 2020, it was up in an alder tree. We were able to eliminate that, donning our fancy spacesuits.

Never actually even tried to sting us. We were relatively safe with everything, and we thought, "Okay, one nest," but there were probably a few more. In 2021, we got a surprise real early on in May, where a different color form of Asian Giant Hornet, a single specimen, was found two counties to the South, so, just north of Seattle in Snohomish County near a town called Marysville. This was a huge shock. We were just beside ourselves, but then we noticed the report basically included the specimen. The specimen was dry and crispy. Looked like it had been sitting on a windowsill for a year and a half or so.

What was interesting about this was this followed three weeks of rain in that area and was found outside near where a man had been planting some trees. Our best guess is this is a dead specimen that came in the shipment of something and fell out of whatever he got out of his shed to help him plant the trees. That is the only logical explanation for us because the condition was basically that that particular specimen had been dead for a while. What was really interesting about that one is it was a different color form.

We all know Asian Giant Hornets have a freakishly, huge yellow-orange head and some nice orange-yellow bands on the abdomen, and stripes, like any child would draw a honey bee or something like that. This one had a, mostly all-black abdomen with just a yellow tip, which was the giveaway that it was the species Vespa mandarinia or Asian Giant Hornet. For those who don't know, there are 23 species of true hornets in the world. None of them actually occur in Washington or are native to North America. We have an idea of what to look for.

This one we felt was a color morph of one that's usually found near Taiwan or Southern portions of China. The DNA, unfortunately, it coded closest to the only specimen in the entire gene database that is from Southern China. That's like saying-- Well, actually, you really can't say it's from China. What you can say though, definitively, is it was completely unrelated to everything we found in Whatcom County in 2020 didn't match that being in there at all. More importantly, also did not match what was found in Canada in 2019 in Nanaimo.

Right now, on very small data sets, we're still seeing that Nanaimo detection is most closely related to hornets from Japan. The Whatcom County ones seem to all code to specimens from South Korea. The one in Snohomish went closest to one from China. Again, we really can't even say that because there are so many regions surrounding that where we have absolutely zero data that it could literally be from anywhere else. That's just the closest one. Our level of confidence on that one was not as high as some of the ones from say, Whatcom County if you will.

Jeff: In 2019, you had reporting of one outbreak or one Asian Giant Hornet, and you found one nest, or one nest was found. Then, 2020-- I'm getting my years mixed up now. Then last year, there were one or two colonies found. That was the very first year you tracked them. Correct?

Sven: Yes, right. The very first year we tracked them, which was 2020, we found the one nest. That was taken out, but we also had-

Jeff: In the alder tree.

Sven: -yes- two trap clusters, which had positives in them, where we're pretty sure something is going on, but we were just never able to get additional specimens and find nests. Here in 2021, we surrounded some of those areas. We got that early oddball hit. By the way, additional trapping for the one that we found in Snohomish County yielded absolutely nothing. We're guessing this is going to be what we call a one-and-done. Something hitched a ride in a box, fell out on somebody's lawn. We'll never hear anything more about it other than the fact that my poor staff has to go out and service a bunch of stinky traps for the next couple of years, to be sure of that. That's fine.

Jeff: 2021, you found there were three colonies found?

Sven: Yes, three.

Jeff: And the last one in August, if I understand right.

Sven: Yes. We ended up putting out ourselves about 835 traps. Cooperators, like our friends at the USDA and some of the other state agencies, added another 350 or so, and then citizen scientists chipped in another 400 traps here in 2021, for 1,600 traps. We changed up our trap densities a little, but we continued the most important part, which is the public outreach components, where we're doing Facebook campaigns, where we're just doing advertisements, mailings, things like that. This led to people calling in and showing us reports of Asian Giant Hornet attacking Paper Wasp nests on their eaves.

In the one instance, we were able to get there that day, and they revisited the Paper Wasp nest, and we actually netted them out of the air. We didn't trap them, but we were able to get up there with an insect net, get a tagline. Oh boy, the first one of the year was frustrating. It was in an area that was completely surrounded by heavy vegetation that was pretty overgrown, a few trails going through the area, but the signal disappeared towards the Canadian border. When I say we were close to the Canadian border, we were on the property adjoining the Canadian border.

Jeff: You had INS agents watching you from just the other end of the yard, right?

Sven: Yes. Actually, it's interesting because we use an ATS tracking system, and it looks for a little beep, beep, beep. Every once in a while, we get a little, slightly higher pitched beep, and we're pretty sure that was trail cams or clandestine cameras if you will, turning on as we were approaching the border because you get one beep and then nothing, which our tags have a constant beep, they go on a certain cycle. It was frustrating because we were able to actually net two different hornets that were coming to a particular house's Paper Wasp nest.

They would be flying off in the direction towards the Canadian border. We'd get in so far, get stopped up by a mountain of Himalayan blackberry or some other impassable vegetation. We'd be standing there, and then we'd lose the signal. We're thinking, "Okay, it either went in the ground or whatever." In the first case, the one had actually slipped the tag off, and believe it or not, our crews were able to track and recapture the tag if you will, in the middle of the forest. When you see these things, they may be the size of a tictac, possibly smaller.

To find that in the middle of a Himalayan blackberry overgrown forest is absolutely amazing to me that the crews basically reacquired the one tag. We actually used that one again, tied it back on, and that one eventually ended up finding the nest a few weeks later. The second one we tagged disappeared into Canada, and we're sitting there going, "Beep, beep." We're here in the middle of COVID, still, order is shut down. We're working with Paul van Westendorp, who's the provincial apiculturist up in BC. He has a huge line of traps set up around the area just across the border from where we're working.

We really have no way to get to him, but it did dawn on us that we do have something called the Peace Arch Park, which you're really not leaving the country, but you're basically able to interact with folks from the other country. In fact, that's what we did. We went up to the Peace Arch Park. I hid a tag in the Peace Arch Park, gave Paul training on the receiver. He was able to locate it and was pretty impressed with it. We loaned him our equipment, and he went over onto the other side of the border right across from us. We can pretty much wave at each other, and he's trying to pick up the tag on the other side.

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Sven: We never relocated that particular tag, but as it turns out, we were able to net a third one, reattach the tag that had been sloughed off. This one just kept coming back and forth to the same Paper Wasp nest, and so we were able to station a little further away, a little further away. What's really cool about this is, this is the middle of August. We had scheduled a field trial day just to make sure all of our equipment was working because honestly, we didn't have any reason to use our equipment until October last year.

We're sitting here in the middle of August, we invited our counterparts from Oregon, some folks from some other states, and all of our field staff, just to get them trained on the tracking devices, the vacuum cleaners. Let them try on a suit to see what it's really like, to have to try to work in one of those in the middle of August. That was a huge success. We trained people how to do tags. The Oregon crew said, "Hey, I understand you tagged one yesterday morning and you're tagging it. Do you mind if we tag along and help?" Not to use a bad pun.

Sure enough, it was actually an Oregon Department of Agriculture employee that ended up putting eyes on the first nest of the year because we teamed her up with one of our USDA people who was at the training as well. The training paid off immediately because then we had three crews out instead of just two, and we were able to get to that one. That one was very close to the Canadian border.

Kim: Sven, I want to interrupt you here for a second, just to get some background.

Sven: Yes, sure.

Kim: One of the things that you just said just a couple of minutes ago was that you had thousands of people trapping, trying to find out where this thing was or wasn't. Of those thousands of people, what did you get besides Giant Asian Hornets? As I got to believe there was a whole lot of misidentifications.

Sven: No. Actually, the first year when we did this, we actually had more trappers. The most common turned-in non-target catch actually was called Spotted wing drosophila. A tiny little fruitfly. these absolutely inundated the traps. It turns out our orange juice and rice wine concoction catches way more Spotted wing drosophila than the traps designed for it. That was number one. Number two is actually our native Yellowjackets. People call it bald-faced hornet, but it's basically a Yellowjacket that's black with white markings on the abdomen. Common aerial Yellowjacket here.

Then also have a couple of our ground nests, and Yellowjackets are the most common things. Very few bees, like way less than 1% of the entire patch was honey bees. Most of those were from a couple of traps which were probably poorly placed, I would have to say. They were near honey bee hive entrances. You don't want to place one of those traps there. The other thing that we got in the trapping, maybe not as effective as we'd like, but what we get is we get people out looking. That generates the calls in, and to me, we work in concert with all these folks who were out checking Paper Wasp nests on the edge of their houses.

That actually led to all three. The third one was really us. We stopped at one of the houses we knew was experiencing this, grabbed one, and found it within like two hours. Anyway, getting back to the tracking, it was really great to have trained Oregon the day before, and then have them really come up to the table there, and provide assistance, and help us actually locate the entrance of the first nest. That one was inside of a rotten alder tree again, so just like the one in 2020. Not in the ground. This one was at the base of the tree, but the nest was actually up a couple of feet.

This nest, these guys were more aggressive, and this was a healthy nest. This had almost 1,700 specimens in it, on its own. They did come out and attempt to defend themselves. I can tell you with all certainty, the suits work. It was actually very good that they came out and tried to hit us, and we know we can wear those without getting injured. That was great.

Kim: 1,700, that's big for one of these, isn't it? They're usually less than 1,000 or so.

Sven: No, they get much bigger but it's big for us because last year's only had about 700 I think.

Kim: Yes, that's what I was thinking.

Sven: Yes, but the second one was something we were going on with it. The second one was in, again, a rotten alder tree on the edge of a farmer's field, a couple of miles over to the East. This one was located much the same way. A person noticed it, they ended up calling for just to have us come out. Got impatient and captured it in a soda bottle, and gave us the specimen. Kept it alive. We were able to tag it, and it was basically located across the street in a farmer's field. That one was not a healthy nest. That one only had like 400 specimens in it.

Quite a few were males, and the rest of them looked a little funny. We think a genetic anomaly with that one. That was the second nest. Then the third nest actually, that's one of our biggest success stories of the year because we took everything we learned, that Asian Giant Hornet was repeatedly visiting and robbing Paper Wasp nests, and just coming and going, and coming and going. We basically attacked that behavior, and it allows us to get live specimens without them sitting in a trap overnight. We only have to ice them for 10 minutes and tie a tag on them.

They're spunky, they're happy to move. They'll start going and doing that trap or that visit back and forth to the nest. That helps us hone in on the nest so much faster. The second one, we actually decided to assemble the whole crew to stage for the second nest removal, and just because it takes crew members different times to get here from the different parts of the state. Chris Looney and I had arrived pretty early in the morning, and we stalled a couple of hours till the other crew members got there. We went back to where we had seen Paper Wasp nests being attacked before.

Chris netted one. We tied a tag on it, and then we were joined by our other crew members from APHIS and Nathan Rouche, our pest biologist up there. Boy, they were able to get to that nest in like an hour and a half as we were going over the stage for the second nest removal. We actually found the third nest, really, within a couple of hours. That's just learning from their behavior, and figuring out things we had done wrong, and just really improving on it. That one unfortunately was 15 feet up again in a rotten alder tree.

You're starting to see a theme here. The Nanaimo nest, which goes to Japan, was in the ground. The nests in Whatcom County have all been in rotten alder trees above the ground, and genetically, all code to Korea. There may be some behavioral differences. It could be that the queen that established the population here was just predisposed to nest in alder trees, or it could be that Whatcom County is always so wet that they don't like to build nests in the ground there. That could be the other reason, but we are floor-for-floor tree nesting nests. That is not what is in the literature, quite frankly.

Jeff: Interesting. I have nothing but alder trees around me, so maybe we should put some traps up in my-- No, I'm just kidding. This year, you were very successful. You found three nests. You had a different tracking device this year, didn't you, or how did that work?

Sven: Yes. In 2020, we had started off using a Bluetooth device, where we could involve the whole community using their cell phones, but honestly, the range wasn't good enough on it. The batteries were suspect. They would keep breaking. A little touchier to operate with. I think some of that has been fixed a little bit, but honestly, it just turned out to be not the right device. We switched to a professional UHF tag, and we had a loan from APHIS who had been using it on spotted lanternfly back East. They were done with it for the year so they just overnighted it.

In 2020, literally, it arrived in the mail. We did training on it one day and found the nest the next day. That was all good news, but in the meantime, we had actually ordered our own, which were from a different company. I like the ones we ordered a little better, and that's what we were using this year. It's the same basic tag. It's called a T15 from ATS, which is Advanced Telemetry Systems, I believe. It's 0.15 grams, so you're pretty sure the hornet is going to be able to carry it. You can put a bit of a longer antenna on it because of that, and then so the signal carries a little further.

It's much smaller than some of the things that they carry around as food pellets, for example, and so it's really no inconvenience to them. What we noticed was, they were happy to go about their regular activities after they have the tag tied to them. A couple of them didn't care for it too much. They spent a little time trying to remove it, but after they realized that was a futile effort, they just went back to business as normal. What I really liked about this one is it goes beep, instead of a very faint cricket chirp, which [mimics cricket chirp] versus beep is a big difference.

Especially if you have camera crews or weird things like a pumphouse, which put out a similar signal or people's internet, Wi-Fi. When you are facing towards a house it gives you a static signal. Some of the things that we learned over the last two seasons is that we're really good at that. The other thing we learned is that we're human, we cannot traverse the kind of terrain that you need to traverse as quickly as something that's in the air. I guess the next step for us is we're working with APHIS for what they call an unmanned aerial vehicle.

Everybody else in the world doesn't use drones. There is a company out of Australia who specializes in mounting software on drones that allows you to pick up a radio tag that's tied to wildlife, and actually give you a GPS spot for where it stops. To me, I can send two or three crew members out there sometimes, not even my own people hacking through Himalayan blackberry with the prize of ending up at the doorstep of an Asian Giant Hornet nest, which may or may not decide to defend itself while you're doing this.

For me, if we can get a GPS point, using an aerial radio receiver, that's going to actually make things a lot safer, and probably a lot faster for us because then when we go out with the ground units, we'll know exactly where we're going already. We can take those kind of precautions that keeps us safe and everyone else. Now, of course, with any sort of a drone program, there are privacy issues, there are other things.

Because we're operating near the Canadian border, there's even more fun that goes along with that. By the way, we need a pilot's license. There's a lot that goes into that, but honestly, in this day and age, that is something I think we're probably going to explore that a little more. Then, instead of a two-week wait period between us finding the first live hornet and us locating the nest, maybe we're down a little closer to finding it in a couple of hours like we did with the third nest of the year.

Jeff: Very cool.

Kim: Yes, it definitely sounds promising, easier, safer, faster, better. Yes, that sounds pretty good.

Sven: Anybody who's had to hack their way through the blackberry brambles would appreciate the use of the drone to get through it because those things, no matter how well you protect yourself, and how slow you go, you still get stuck, and poked, and scraped, and lose skin.

Kim: A quick question, Sven. When you saw these Asian Hornets attacking your local bald-faced hornet nests, two things. One is, they were attacking them, and essentially tearing them apart, or they were destroying the nest and taking the larva back to their nest. What was the situation during the battle?

Sven: We noticed a lot of this in August and early September, which, they don't go into that classic slaughter phase that we've all talked about in previous episodes and you see in the literature. They don't normally go into that until August. That's where they'll mark a honey bee hive, and come en masse, and just decapitate everybody and leave. Basically, these were lone foragers, if you will. They would find one or several Paper Wasp nests, and they would go from Paper Wasp nest to Paper Wasp nest. What they were doing was actually chewing pieces of the nest out, in some instances.

Stealing a Paper, if you will, from a Paper Wasp nest, taking the brood. We do have the whole community, of course, is 12 houses in a country block. They all knew we were there, and everybody had the wonderful hospitality to let us know what was going on in their property, so that was great. One person, she felt that she had filmed Asian Giant Hornets doing a mass attack on a Paper Wasp nest. This was second or third week in August. This was, wow, we knew they did that, but that doesn't really appear in the literature much, and of course, hasn't really made the media there.

Unfortunately, she was very interested in talking to us, but her husband was not interested in having anyone from the government on the property, so we were not able to confirm this. She actually did not know how to report properly on her phone so she didn't actually get a video of it, but what she described fits right in. We do happen to know because there was a trap on that property, that Asian Giant Hornets were visiting the Paper Wasps nest on her property. What she described was one of them came, and then all of a sudden at six o'clock as she was sitting out on the deck, five or six of them came and just absolutely destroyed the entire Paper Wasp nest.

Jeff: Wow.

Sven: Killing all the adults, and then carrying the brood off. That was really interesting. We wish that she had videotaped it properly because that is something we would like to share with everybody. What I can tell you is Chris Looney, at the third nest, went out. The third nest is quite a fun story because we had to go up in our extremely comfortable hornet suits into a bucket truck. We had to be lifted 15 feet off the ground to be able to perform the extraction, and so this took a little while to set up. We weren't able to fill that nest in 24 hours.

That took us an additional week or so. What was really cool was Chris Looney was able-- Since we had this and the entrance was 15 feet up, it was relatively safe to operate around it, he was able to conduct a few experiments. One of them was to net live hornets that were returning from the field carrying food pellets. We analyzed all these pellets to see what they were eating. I did confirm all this with him this morning, but the most common-- Well, it's hard to say what the most common food source. The thing that showed up in the DNA analysis the most was Polistes wasps.

Those are Paper Wasps that build nests on eaves. The bald-faced hornets or Dolichovespula maculata. That's the black, what people call bald-faced hornet here. Honey bees was third, and then a close fourth was our other Yellowjackets. The one thing we did have is no reported attacks on honey bee hives from April this year so that was great. We did have, and there were photos submitted with this, photographs of them basically preying on single honey bees that were visiting sunflowers.

We do have a photo of this, and obviously, the DNA evidence and the food pellets max up, but they are preying on European honey bees and a lot of other native things that are supposed to be here and a couple that aren't supposed to be here. There were all sorts of other cool things in there. Hamburger was in there, was way down the list, but there was a DNA hit for hamburger. Of course, human, but that's probably contamination from us playing with the samples. We also analyzed the fecal pellets from the larvae in the nests and got similar results.

They're making use of several of our native insects. Even supposed really bad predators like dragonflies, the kings of the sky. Yes, guess what? Asian Giant Hornet eat dragonflies, so that's in there.

Jeff: Wow, they really are an apex predator then.

Sven: They certainly are, yes.

Kim: A question. They're bringing back hornets to their nest to feed to their young. Somehow they're dissolving the contents of that hornet so it's a liquid or a paste that they can feed to the larva?

Sven: Bit of a complicated thing. They chew it up into what's called a meatball. The larvae actually have pretty strong mouthparts. A lot of people don't know this, but after you've taken out a hive and you have the brood, you can actually hear the larvae clicking. That's, click, click. It's two big mandibles clicking together. They'll do this in waves sometimes. It's really bizarre behavior. I think we may have caught that on video.

Kim: There's a sound in the night I don't want to hear.

Jeff: Yes. No, that's a nightmare sound is what I imagine that just being something of nightmares.

Sven: Yes. It is actually a little creepy a little bit. Anyway, they're able to use this pre-chewed up stuff, and then they will actually turn that into what's called hornet juice if you will. They will secrete that. That's actually what the workers prefer to feed on. That's what they will mostly feed on. Now, we trick them with strawberry jelly, or orange juice, or some other fun things, but they don't actually chew up and eat the things that they're going out to catch. They will give it to the larvae. The larvae will regurgitate the food for them. A little different strategy than you see in most of these social insects.

Kim: In Asia, where these hornets came from originally, the honey bees in Asia, when they're attacked by these, the hornets have some defenses because they've been exposed to them for so long, that the honey bees here don't have, I'm told. There's the fecal spawning by the front of the door, and then the balling, where 20 of them will surround a giant hornet and essentially bake it. Raise it to what? 117 degrees or something, and that heat kills it. Did you see any of that behavior with the hornets that they were attacking here?

Sven: No. Like I said, it was mostly Paper Wasp nests that we were observing them on. There were a couple larger Paper Wasp nests where they would, as a group, come after it, and then it would just move to the next one. I also witnessed myself, one of them coming up to a pretty loaded condominium of Paper Wasps. They came out at it to try to scare it away, and it just laughed at them like they weren't even there. One time, it knocked it down to the ground, but then it flew up and took what it wanted anyway. There's just no defense for this. Definitely not.

Kim: Yes. I can see that one of the things that people, where you are, also could be looking for is destroyed Paper Wasp nests. Maybe the fluff on the ground when it falls or half of one still hanging in a tree. That would be a good sign that there's lots of these things somewhere close by.

Sven: Absolutely. That is something we did end up working with the outreach a little later in the season through the Facebook chat, the Facebook groups, and things like that. It's probably something our outreach person, Cassie, is going to be developing. If you're concerned about these on your property, keep an eye on your Paper Wasps all year because typically, you'll see them.

Jeff: I have seen birds pick at the Paper Wasps nest, grab the larvae out, and tear them apart pretty regularly around here.

Kim: You got some nasty birds out there.

Jeff: You don't want to cross them. Kim. You just don’t want to cross them at all. Sven, also you said that there was 1 colony that was over 1,700 individuals in it. How many queens were in that colony?

Kim: Just one.

Jeff: Just one queen. There weren't any virgin queens?

Sven: No, nothing like that. Remember, early in the conversation I had mentioned everything seemed early this year. Our first nest was in August. The other two were in September. We got to all three nests, only had one queen each before any new breeding cast had been produced.

Jeff: Interesting.

Sven: Honestly, with no other traps and no other public reports coming in, we're cautiously optimistic. The only thing that happened was about a month after we were done, a Japanese beetle trap, of all things, set in British Columbia, it had a specimen in it that looked even more beat up than the one we got earlier in the year, which means it had been sitting there for a while. We checked and it had been last serviced around the time we had taken out our last nests. We're assuming this is a straggler because Paul had a really good trap line going just North of us there.

That was the only thing, is a Japanese beetle trap just across the border ended up picking up what we believe is one of the stragglers. I do believe we're testing the DNA on that one, but it was in pretty solid shape. It had been sitting around in the trap for over a month.

Jeff: That's a great segue into, what are you looking forward to this year in 2022?

Sven: Time will tell. That whole area got flooded really bad from what we know from the literature, which, obviously, it's not following what it's supposed to be doing in the literature.

Jeff: It doesn't read books.

Sven: Yes. Overwintering queens will make an earthen cell. If an earthen cell is sitting underwater, you got to think that can't be good for overwintering queens. We're hoping that will help us. Of course, as long as we have a positive in Whatcom County, we are locked into an additional three years of trapping to prove that it is pest-free, so we have our surveillance running. We'll continue the outreach, and with our new information about Paper Wasp nests on people's eaves, I think we'll get even more help than we got this year. We got a ton of help from the public calling these things in.

We have a good crew of people. They know what they're doing. We want better traps. We know our traps work, we've collected hornets in them. One of our live traps actually caught a couple of them near the third nest, but they were out so long that it was hot during that time of year that those were nonfunctional specimens. We know our traps work, but we don't know how well they work. APHIS has been working on a couple of attractants. We've collected some volatiles from Paper Wasp nests because one thing we observed in the field was one particular hornet that we had tagged.

We were trying to follow her then we realized we were walking in a triangle. She was basically going from one Paper Wasp nest to another, to another, and then again, and again, and again. Very odd behavior, but what we did notice was the third Paper Wasp nest she was visiting was inside the pipe of a basketball stand. It was not visible, and so, how does she know that's there? We got to thinking, "They really seem to be able to find these nests, no problem. She's obviously finding it in the hidden location, so, it really can't be visual. There has to be something coming out from the Paper Wasp nest that's attracting them."

Jacque Serrano who works with APHIS, she has been testing volatiles or putting together lure blends to test. The problem with us testing them though is we don't know where they're located here. The population is not huge. We know there is a population. We've filled three nests so we knew we had at least three nests, but we don't know if there are more. Us testing ours here is almost pointless. We are going to have to test those overseas. It's been difficult with the pandemic, for us to get any of this kind of stuff done. We've got some lures over to a cooperator, I believe in Japan, not Korea, earlier, but we're a little more interested in testing our stuff in Korea since it seems we have Korean partners if you will. The behavior of nesting in the tree, we don't know what that does to the efficacy of a trap, versus one that nests in the ground. We want to make it as close to where they came from as possible. By the way, they're all over the place there. If we set a trap out, and it is effective, in theory, we should draw them in, and then we'll know what to use here. That's one thing for 2022 we want to get accomplished, is some testing over in Korea.

Jeff: That would be fun, and that would be really good. Do you hope to get that testing done before our season gets going at the end of the year, or at the end of the summer, or in conjunction with?

Sven: Probably throughout the year. We want to get over and get them up to try to attract queens first because we do have some things that are mimicking oak sap, which is supposed to be the preferred food. We want to get those up there in queen flight season. We're thinking May, June, sort of. That's about when they seem to come out over there according to some of the folks who've been talking to us. Just get that set up, and then leave everything there, and let them run them throughout the season. See how effective they are, and then just tabulate the results in the fall.

It might not help us out in the coming season, but if we still persist with the problem here, at least we'll have a tool ready to go that's maybe better. We also actually switched up our bait for citizen scientists. We let them run with brown sugar and water because it's a lot cheaper, and you only have to service it every two weeks. I've been doing that on my property since-- I was doing it before we had Covid but that's just because I'm insane. I like to collect bugs. We're really seeing no difference in the attractiveness between brown sugar water, and the orange juice, and ethanol.

They seem to collect basically the same things. A lot of fruit flies, a lot of the native Yellowjackets, not much else. No Asian Giant Hornets yet, at least out here on the Olympic Peninsula.

Jeff: One of the original recipes was for a special wine vinegar?

Sven: It's not vinegar. It's basically rice cooking wine.

Jeff: Yes, and that was really hard to find I recall.

Sven: Exactly. That's why we made the switch to brown sugar because that seems to work back East on the European Hornet or Vespa crabro just fine. We figured, no harm in letting folks off easier. It's a lot cheaper because a bag of brown sugar is what? $2?

Jeff: We really appreciate you taking time to be here today, Sven. It's been a fantastic last, what, three years you've been talking to us about it? Look forward to you coming back early next year and telling us you found nothing, and you're just chasing Japanese beetles. [chuckles]

Kim: The other half of that, Jeff is, if you find a whole bunch of them all of a sudden, don't hesitate to get ahold of us so we can help spread the word.

Sven: Absolutely.

Kim: Yes.

Sven: I guess my boss did it. We had our holiday party, when my boss shared his favorite story from the year. Apparently, it was me trying a live hornet puking in the field from the first nest that we filled up from the year. I got to tell you, I know they call it a delicacy but I'm not feeling it.

[laughter]

Jeff: Did they get that on video?

Sven: I think Carla took a photo. It may actually be up on our media site.

Jeff: Maybe she can get us and folk can check our show notes, maybe we can get a picture of you testing out the delicacy of the Asian Giant Hornet larva.

Sven: Chris also tried some. Apparently, we did this wrong. You're supposed to remove certain parts.

[laughter]

Sven: He tried the cook version, and he said it was no better. Honestly, it just leaves a bad aftertaste in the mouth.

Jeff: There's no dipping sauce, or nothing to salt, pepper?

Sven: Not in the field. [chuckles] Not in the field, there isn't, no.

Jeff: Squeeze some lime juice on it, something? A shot of tequila?

Sven: I may have had three lemonades on the way home just to get the taste out on my mouth.

Jeff: [laughs] Sven, we really appreciate you taking the time today to be joining us on Beekeeping Today Podcast. Look forward to having you back, and here's to a very productive season in 2022.

Kim: All of us East of you appreciate your efforts. You can keep that up and keep it out there, okay?

Sven: We'll continue to do the best we can.

Jeff: Okay. Thanks, Sven.

Sven: Thanks, guys.

Jeff: Bye-bye.

Sven: Bye now.

Jeff: Actually, overall, I think Sven had great news for us. It sounds like it's not turning out to be as big a deal as we were led to believe it might be.

Kim: Yes. If you've got to start the new year out like we're doing today, news like that is a good way to do it, so, Sven and all your crew, thank you.

Jeff: Yes, absolutely. Of course, if we weren't all dealing with COVID, maybe we'd be running around waving our hands in the air.

Kim: Yes, you're right. This was good news. This thing isn't going to take us by storm at least for a while.

Jeff: Yes. Let's hope there's no surprises in 2022 this year. All right, that about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars in Apple Podcasts, wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage. As always, we thank the Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

We want to thank our regular episode sponsor, Global Patties. Check them out at www.globalpatties.com. We want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast. Check out their full probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. Check out Betterbee and all of the great beekeeping supplies at www.betterbee.com. Finally, and really, truly, most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions or comments at questions@beekeepingtodaypodcast.com. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?

Kim: Yes, just one more thing, Jeff. Good news starts the year, share it with a friend. Send it out there and say, "All things being equal, this was good news."

Jeff: It was very, very, very good news.

Kim: Yes.

Jeff: Good way to start the year. All right. Thanks a lot, everybody.

[00:54:56] [END OF AUDIO]

 

Sven-Erik Spichiger

Entomologist

BS Entomology Penn State, MS Entomology Clemson
20 years with Commonwealth of PA as Pest biologist, Forest Entomologist, State Entomologist for Agriculture
Currently Managing Entomologist for WSDA