B.C. plans for Asian giant hornet different; Washington 'got lucky'

B.C.’s top apiculturist says the province is taking a different approach than Washington state in tracking down the Asian giant hornet, using traps and sightings to root out nests instead of radio tracking.

“Radio tagging is only possible when one collects a number of live specimens,” said Paul van Westendorp. “Our survey efforts in the Fraser Valley have focused on trap monitoring and the support of beekeepers and other organizations.”

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Van Westendorp said monitoring areas on the Lower Mainland and the Island include reporting from 170 beekeepers, several municipalities and their parks departments, RCMP, Canada Border Services, Semiahmoo First Nation and area residents. All sightings are reporting through websites at the Environment Ministry and Invasive Species Council of B.C.

He said there are 50 traps in the Nanaimo area, 12 in the Cowichan Valley and 70 in the Langley-White Rock border zone. This type of surveillance will continue in 2021 and 2022 and possibly beyond.

There are multiple challenges in finding hornets, van Westendorp said.

“At this very early stage of invasion, its population density is exceedingly low,” he said. And as an apex predator, there will never be that many of them.

“The Washington nest find was extraordinarily lucky as it was situated in a hollow tree in a cultivated rural area,” he said. “A kilometre north is dense forest cover that extends to the border, where finding such a nest would have been very challenging.

“In other words, the chances of not finding a nest remain real.”

That doesn’t mean it will be an easy ride for the Asian giant hornet, he said, considering that this new arrival has to adjust to climate conditions and different prey fauna, nesting habitat and vegetative cover.

Another significant factor is the pressure of inbreeding.

Van Westendorp said there could be a high percentage of queens that may not mate and never establish a nest next spring, while others that have mated and survive the winter may not produce viable nests.

How the hornets got to North America remains a hot topic, but there is general agreement the species hitched a ride on products from ships originating in Asia.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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