British Columbia

Honeybee-eating invasive hornets found in B.C. But they're still asleep — for now

Three Asian giant hornets have been found dead in Nanaimo, marking the first time they’ve ever been seen on Vancouver Island.

Asian giant hornets have been known to destroy an entire honeybee nest in a short period of time

Asian giant hornets are the largest type of hornet and prey on other insects. (Ministry of Agriculture)

An invasive species of hornets known to feed on honeybees has been found in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

Three dead Asian giant hornets have been identified, marking the first time they've ever been seen on Vancouver Island.

Asian giant hornets — the largest of all hornets — are currently dormant and aren't expected to make an appearance until spring, giving the Ministry of Agriculture time to develop surveillance and trapping equipment to help local beekeepers.

"This wasp is an apex predator," said Tracy Hueppelsheuser, the ministry's provincial entomologist. "Honeybees are great for them because they have a nice nest which is easy to get into."

Eight wild bee species are listed on Canada's species at risk registry, some of which have lost 50 per cent of their total population. 

Hueppelsheuser says the hornets can destroy an entire hive in a short period. And the invasive species isn't selective when it comes to its diet, she says, adding they eat all types of insects.

How to protect your hive

Fortunately, Hueppelsheuser says, there is a method to prevent them from wiggling their way into the nests of their next meal.

Because of the Asian giant hornets' large size, honeybee producers can put a gate over the entrance to the hive, which makes it too small for the predator to enter but leaves it big enough for honeybees to go about their duties.

This technology is currently used in other parts of the world, she says, where Asian giant hornets are more prevalent.

Experts warn that a sting from an Asian giant hornet is very painful because of its powerful venom. (Ministry of Agriculture)

Hueppelsheuser adds that their nests are often hard to spot as they are built underground.

"It's just a hole," she said. 

"You'll see the insects milling about around that hole and then you'll know you've got a nest of some kind there."

Asian giant hornets and humans

 Although the idea of a giant hornet is enough to strike fear into some, Island Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback says there's no need to panic, Asian giant hornets stings are rare.

But that doesn't mean they can't happen, especially if their nest is disturbed.

"The colony will defend the nest and does so by initially sending out one hornet," said Hasselback. "If the individual continues to stay in the area, they may send out multiple workers that all potentially could attack."

And he warns that a sting from one of these hornets has the potential to be very painful, due to its powerful venom.

There is a risk some individuals might experience an allergic reaction, but he says, "there isn't necessarily a reaction between those that have bee sting allergies to those that have the Asian giant hornet stings" because they are very different venoms.

Anyone who is stung multiple times has a higher risk of developing an allergic reaction and is advised to seek medical attention immediately.