Asian giant hornet (copy)

This file photo from the Washington State Department of Agriculture shows an Asian giant hornet found in the state.

While no Asian giant hornets have been found in Oregon, scientists still have concerns about the insects.

“We want people to not be so freaked out that they are killing beneficial insects,” said Andony Melathopoulos, Oregon State University pollinator health extension specialist. “There is no cause for alarm but a cause for vigilance.”

The world’s largest hornets, Asian giant hornets have a painful and occasionally fatal sting to humans. They prey on other insects, including pollinators such as honeybees.

In Asia, where the hornets originate, honeybees have developed defense mechanisms to survive a n attack. Basically, they swarm toward the hornet and their combined body heat cooks the predator alive.

Bee populations in the Pacific Northwest haven’t had to contend with these hornets long enough to develop such defenses.

“Our bees don’t do that,” Melathopoulos said. “They sit at the entrance to the nest and try to fight them off, and these hornets just lob their heads off until there are no more left to defend the nest, and then they go in and eat the nest out.”

This is the real danger that the giant hornets pose to Oregon, which relies on these pollinators for agriculture. Local bee populations have been threatened by industrialization and climate change.

“In the mid-Valley, we have orchard crops and also seeds like radish seeds and cabbage seeds — all of these require bees for pollination,” Melathopoulos said. “Over years, beekeepers have worked double-hard to keep their colony numbers up. But having one more problem on top of all the problems that they face, it will make it even harder.”

Most Asian giant hornet populations have been spotted in Washington state near the Canadian border. An entomologist in Washington told a state Senate committee that he’s hopeful efforts to contain the giant hornets in Whatcom County have been successful.

Even so, the hornets could migrate south by hitching a ride on the back of a truck or train that’s carrying timber or agricultural goods.

“We should be very careful moving things ... down here in terms of firewood and hay,” Melathopoulos said.

Both Washington and Oregon recommend that people who come across a suspected giant hornet nest avoid agitating them. While the hornets are actually less aggressive than, say, yellow jackets, they can become defensive if people wander too close to their nests or attempt to remove their hives.

It’s not a good idea for members of the public to try and kill them, Melathopoulos said. For one, it risks enraging the colony. For another, innocent bugs that are helpful pollinators may be killed by mistake.

“Just take a picture and don’t overreact,” Melathopoulos recommended. “Take a picture, and send it to (Oregon Department of Agriculture) or OSU Extension Service. Then we can really look into and deal with ... this problem.”

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