British Columbia

Mystery hornet identified, turns out she's not from around here and likes to eat honeybees

An over-sized hornet found buzzing around a waterfront office in Vancouver earlier this month has been identified as a non-native Asian insect known to feed on honeybees.

Invasive hornet is a honeybee's nightmare with a sting that can be dangerous to people who are allergic

The black-tailed hornet, or vespa ducalis, can grow up to 35 millimetres long, which is more than twice the length of a regular bumblebee. (Allan H. Smith-Pardo/USDA)

An over-sized hornet found buzzing around a waterfront office in Vancouver earlier this month has been identified as a non-native Asian insect known to feed on honeybees.

Tyson Hergott brought the hornet in to experts after he spotted it pestering a co-worker at the Port of Vancouver office on May 10. Hergott's girlfriend, Valerie Greer of North Vancouver, told CBC that he caught it with a paper cup and put it in a plastic bottle, because the insect just didn't look right.

"He took one look at it and he knew immediately that this was not normal," said Greer. "We knew it didn't belong here."

They were right.

Invasive bee-eater

The hornet hails from a long way off. It's a species found in Japan and other Asian countries and even Russia, but not B.C.

The female black-tailed hornet was examined and photographed by experts from the University of British Columbia and eventually identified as a Vespa ducalis or female black-tailed hornet, with the help of two Japanese professors — Dr Masahiro Ohara of Hokkaido University Museum and Dr. Junichi Kojima of Ibaraki University. 

This was determined by examining the eye and cheek width and color patterns on the segmented body, according to an email from Karen Needham of the Spencer Entomological Collection, Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC's Faculty of Science.

The hornet's common Japanese name is literally translated as princess sparrow bee.

Black-tailed hornets can grow up to to 35 millimetres long or almost three-times the length of a common honey bee.

They are foragers who feed on the pupae of paper wasps, ants, termites and nectar. This species has also been known to feed on honeybees, according to entomologist and invasive insect specialist Dr. Allan Smith-Pardo of the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

A large hornet captured by a North Vancouver couple in Vancouver on May 20. Invasive species officials say it's important to report insects and plants that don't look like they belong in B.C. (OneThousandGs/Twitter)

"Vespa are also opportunistic and can prey on other insects for protein sources. In fact, as many other species of Vespa, they can also prey on bees. Once a worker finds them and they are abundant, it will recruit other workers to prey on them," he said in an email.

The large hornet also has a venomous sting that can cause reactions in people with allergies.

The black-tailed hornet is found in India, Thailand, China and Japan. They've even been found in Nepal and Russia.

Greer and her boyfriend who found the insect both wondered if the hornet perhaps hitched a ride on a cargo ship and ended up in Vancouver.

The black-tailed hornet is native to most of Asia. This image was taken by U.S. authorities studying invasive hornets. (Allan H. Smith-Pardo/USDA)

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@CBC.ca @ybrend

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