When I first saw this giant hornet online, all I could think was “Nope, nope, nope” times infinity. Yes, I know wasps help with pollination and they have a role in the ecosystem. But one sting from this type of bug in my childhood is enough to make me steer clear of them if not “kill it with fire” sort of thing. But I digress.
If you remember a while back, this asian giant hornet was all over the internet because there was a sighting in Washington December last year. Then, media coverage grew and we know this insect as murder hornets. And since the fear of hornets is common, people began to fear this menacing bug as well as all stinging bugs.
Unbeknownst to us, the identification of these asian giant hornets is actually a scientific success story. Entomologists who keep working together found specimens for research so that they can protect the USA against potentially invasive species that threaten its agriculture and economy.
Killer hornets which can be bad and good
The title indeed says that these hornets are not all bad, well, what I mean by that is that they have a good effect. They are still bad, mind you, but their arrival could lead to something rather favorable for the conservation of native American insects.
We all know that invasive species can disrupt the ecosystems and can have a negative impact on the economy. Entomologists believe that if these hornets managed to establish a foothold on the West Coast, they could harm honeybee colonies across the country.
The USDA stated that honeybees are “responsible for one in every three bites of food we take and increase our nation’s crop values each year by more than $15 billion.” Basically, if these asian giant hornets were found a little too late, they could become an invasive species. So it’s a good thing that entomologists were able to identify them earlier.
Now, they are bad for the native species because they can obliterate them. But as scary as they look, these hornets don’t want to attack humans. Maybe they do when they feel threatened, but which animals that don’t do that?
“Invasive species are a serious threat to United States agriculture. But I do believe calling the Asian giant hornet a ‘murder’ hornet is inappropriate. I think that’s completely wrong. It’s very doubtful that these insects will kill humans,” said Matt Buffington, a research entomologist at the Systematic Entomology Laboratory USDA.
Because the media is feeding this fear, some people in the United States began killing other species of stinging insects, which may be the native species
Research entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture Chris Looney said, “There’s already a tendency for people to be afraid of insects, especially stinging insects, even though they’re not dangerous to the vast majority of people. That’s kind of a bummer because they fill all these vital ecosystem roles. Even if this does become an established species, it’s not likely to emerge as an enormous human health threat.”
So no, there won’t be swarms of asian giant hornets trying to invade America like in fiction stories any time soon.
Think blue bees don’t exist? They do
After talking about “murderous” hornets, let’s talk about something good. There’s a new addition to the ever rare natural blue-colored living things: blue calamintha bee. I still don’t know if they’re a newly found species, but they were first identified in 2011 and last seen in 2016 in Central Florida.
However, because of the pandemic, the wildlife had a chance to flourish without interruption. This spring, the rare, blue-colored Osmia calaminthae was rediscovered in the same region foraging on Ashe’s calamint, a dainty violet flower that blooms in certain scrub habitats.
“It was a great feeling; those first few nights were hard to sleep due to the anxiousness and excitement. The first few times I found the bee I couldn’t help [but] constantly question my own eyes and judgment on the diagnostic characteristics of the bee. I needed to look multiple times at the photos to confirm their identity,” said Chase Kimmel of the Florida Museum of Natural History. He confirmed the bees’ survival in March
Kimmel and his colleagues documented just 17 rare bees and never more than three at any one time. In order to find them all, they go to different sites such as Lake Wales Sand Ridge and Bok’s Singing Tower.
“The Lake Wales Ridge is a pretty specialized environment composed of unique scrub habitat that is limited in geographic extent,” Kimmel said. He also stated that the flower that hosts the bee is restricted to a few of these isolated scrub pockets, predominantly along the ridge. So the bee has never ventured out of these areas.
Not only geographic limitation, habitat loss and fragmentation are the main cause of the blue bee’s population decline in recent decades, according to experts. The usual culprits of habitat loss.
Kimmel said, “This ancient island ridge is now primarily composed of agriculture, typically citrus, and urban development. While we have no evidence of pesticide exposure, it is highly likely that the bees could be impacted by this adjacent agriculture given that they have been found only meters away.”
A relatively unknown species for now
It’s been only a decade of us knowing the existence of these bees, therefore, scientists are not fully familiar with the blue calamintha bees yet. They’re still getting to know more about their vulnerabilities, habits, and other natural stuff about them.
For example, these bees appear to have an unusual way of foraging. Unlike most bee species, they tend to rapidly bob their heads two to four times when visiting flowers. Kimmel and other experts believe that they do this so that they can dislodge pollen from the plant, but Kimmel said that none of the other 23 bee species known to visit Ashe’s calamint do this
“This behavior also results in some of the bees carrying pollen on their face for extended periods of time, which is also rare. It’s quite strange that it doesn’t groom itself more often and transfer the pollen to its abdomen sooner. The hairs on its face to appear modified for collecting pollen but this would need additional studies to see if that is the case,” said Kimmel.
Additionally, Kimmel and his team don’t know why this species has that blue color. It is among at least nine species of bees in Florida that have blueberry-like exoskeletons. Experts also believe that they’re solitary because they haven’t found a hive. And, their sightings have only been documented in the wild from March to April this year. There’s so much more to learn about them.
As of now, Kimmel doesn’t have a good estimate of how many of these bees remain in the wild, but he doesn’t want to lose hope and believes that these beautiful creatures will make a comeback in the coming years.
Hopefully we can see more of these blue bees and less of the asian giant hornets, because we all know why.