Beekeepers and gardeners are on alert for the Yellow Legged Hornet
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Beekeepers and gardeners in Savannah, Ga., are on high alert. That's where agriculture officials confirmed on Friday the country's first known nest belonging to the yellow-legged hornet. Here's Benjamin Payne of Georgia Public Broadcasting.
BENJAMIN PAYNE, BYLINE: On a muggy August morning just outside Savannah, Tim Davis walks past a fountain at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens.
TIM DAVIS: This is our pollinator garden.
PAYNE: It's here that the University of Georgia entomologist and other insect enthusiasts are conducting a pollinator census - basically a snapshot of the number and types of bugs that many plants depend on for reproduction.
DAVIS: That's a really pretty scoliid.
PAYNE: A scoliid wasp is one of them.
DAVIS: You see that yellow on there? That's why it's so hard. But it's got those blue wings on it.
PAYNE: Hard, he means, to tell a scoliid apart from the yellow-legged hornet.
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TYLER HARPER: We're here this morning to announce the confirmed detection of yellow-legged hornets in the state of Georgia. This is the first time that this has ever been detected in the United States.
PAYNE: That's Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper earlier this month at a news conference where he shared that the invasive species was found by a Savannah area beekeeper in August. Then Friday, Harper announced that state scientists found a nest on nearby Wilmington Island, which they removed. Nevertheless...
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HARPER: The yellow-legged hornet can continue to threaten honey production, native pollinators and our state's No. 1 industry, which is agriculture.
PAYNE: That's a huge concern to Sherrie and Bobby Black. The married couple have harvested lots of honey this year from their one-acre garden in the aptly named Savannah suburb of Garden City.
SHERRIE BLACK: Probably about 200 pounds so far altogether, not including what we left in the hives for the girls.
PAYNE: The girls being what they call their honeybees, who they say face enough threats as it is.
BOBBY BLACK: We're constantly fighting beetles and mites. So - and on top of this, there's just another enemy. You know what I mean? Oh, man.
S BLACK: We need the pollinators. You know, the pollinators are important for our plants and our crops. We don't want anything to come and damage the bees.
PAYNE: To stop the damage, scientists with the Georgia Department of Agriculture are doing insect detective work, mapping the locations of individual hornets to see if they can find more nests. A large part of this reconnaissance relies on backyard beekeepers and gardeners. They're urged to report suspected sightings to the state. In addition to yellow legs, these roughly one-inch hornets have a yellow face and a yellow stripe on the abdomen. How the hornets got to Georgia may always be a mystery, says entomologist Tim Davis.
DAVIS: There are so many ways in a global economy for an invasive species of any kind to move. So this could have come in a commercial airline flight. It could have come through the ports.
PAYNE: In fact, the port of Savannah is one of the busiest on the East Coast. The yellow-legged hornet is a cousin of the bigger Asian giant hornet, which reared its head in Washington state a couple of years ago. There, tracking and trapping has kept it at bay. For NPR News, I'm Benjamin Payne in Savannah, Ga.
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