Thursday, June 17, 2021

2021 Marysville Sighting

 This morning's local papers (I get two), both reported the finding of a dead male hornet in Marysville. Which although the state underplays it- as they should lacking substantial evidence- there are some significant and ominous aspects to this finding- that I think have a above average probability.

Firstly, Marysville, for those that don't know the area, isn't anywhere within range of the previous findings, it's a few years south of them (measured in how many years it would take those initial hornets to spread there). The nearest port is the port of Everett- and the Navy's port,  so not out of the question they came from there. But how likely?

The state is suggesting that this might just be "normal"- more ports, more shipments. I've lived here all my life, and am 5th generation, and I can't recall that it was ever "normal" to find giant hornets, and except for WW2, shipping has been pretty much non-stop from Japan.

Plus- had a mated female arrived in any of that time- the climate and area was perfect even then. No one checked, or cared- how is it that is happening now and never before?

When they tested the DNA, they found this speciman was unrelated to the previous finds, which now makes three different lineages. The idea that they have somehow come independently sees hard to fathom, though maybe something new is being imported that wasn't before? A new agricultural crop for example, or shipments from a port in Japan that didn't ship to us before? Given they have the DNA, isn't there a way to trace its origins in Japan?

However, the main thing  is that this is a male animal. That suggests a hornet that was born here. Not for sure of course- but for a male hornet to have been imported means it would have had to ship out after Summer in 2020, and that's not when we're thinking they came. It doesn't sound right to me.

However, one unspoken possibility is that there are in fact, a lot more hornet nests out there than anyone thought- and that they spread much, much further in a year than anyone predicted. Both not unlikely- the guesses as to their yearly spread were purely speculation- no one has the actual data. Guesses were 30 km a year- yet the Asian Hornet, in Europe, moves 100 km a year. That's from memory- I might be off- but the point is, they can travel far, and that we don't know how far. And Marysville, after two years of the hornet being here (initially found on Vancouver in 2019- but it could have arrived earlier than that as well), could well be in their range if they are spreading faster than we thought, 

Consider for example,  that  with the hive destroyed last year, the hornet, though huge, was rarely seen. And only at the very last minute, with thousand of traps in a very small area, caught. It was never even seen by the homeowners on who's property this was on. It keeps a low profile, despite it's size. 

Plus- our neighbor to the north, B.C., appears to be doing very little, if anything, to address the issue- and last we heard the hornet had been located, but not destroyed, further east then was guessed it could be.

It's early yet- and of course officials want to suggest this is all "in hand" and possibly "normal", or "the new normal"- and it may well be. However, I think the money is on it not being under control- and any confidence that it is only needs to look at the success of its relative, the Asian Hornet, in Europe. If it's not, its spread will happen fast, and it might be even faster than Dr. Looney's paper suggests. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

End of the Season

It was an exciting series of events this Fall - the catching of some hornets, the tracking of them, and the eventual destruction of a colony!  What a great story.

In my reading, the most accurate news report on this came surprisingly from my mother-in-law in Tacoma, who mailed me a clipped article from the Tacoma News Tribune (not the first she's sent me on this topic), which excelled I thought in it's accuracy, compared, for example, to the Seattle Times, of NYT. Kudos to them.

Having spent so much time in making traps- I'll admit- I was happy they were caught, but a little disappointed that these weren't the traps that did it. Plastic traps beat wooden traps. Still- I see that as more a lack of hornet population pressure- the found colony was small in population, and a bee hive wasn't necessary for it's survival. 

Should a few unfound colonies survive the winter, which seems likely,  numbers will increase in the coming year, and I would think hive traps could still prove useful. So I'm keeping the site up, and ready to build more if needed.

Last weekend the Fraser river valley started blowing south- and temperatures dropped dramatically. I live 100 miles away, and I put a coat on just to get the paper, it's that cold- so cold I don't let the cat out at night. 

Yet even so- and  though its now raining and cold- I see that a few of my hives are getting seriously attacked by yellow jackets.  One in particular- which I thought was a strong one- has a constant attack going on. 

What happens I think- is that when it gets cold, the bee cluster contracts, and the guard bees pull off from their duties and leave the entrances unguarded. So wasps easily find their way in, and are unchallenged. With top entry hives, this is less so (as bees are up there already where it is warmer), but if there is still a lower entry, it's an easy avenue for attack. Wasps are smart- they figure out by constant probing and moving about where the weak points are, and take advantage of any weakness. That they can't communicate this to other wasps is incomprehensible to me- they rapidly learn as a group where a route "in" is, no matter how convoluted. Some sort of communication must be happening.

What's striking to me in this, is that is is a.) cold, b.) raining, and c.) really late in the year (are they really still raising queen brood this late? How do they get mated?). 

If the AGH is anything similar- and one would think due to it's large size and increased metabolism that the cold would not be as limiting- then I could see that any remaining AGH colonies might very well be still active in Whatcom county. And possibly this year's drama is not yet over.

Hoping it is- but won't be surprised if there is a few hornet sightings left to come.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Hornet Thoughts- Mid October

 Pushing toward mid-October now, a few more weeks of potential trapping left (though Mr. McFall's hive last year wasn't attached until November, I've been told- so who knows?). and then, if nothing happens, we're back where we were - though with more potential hornets out there.  Apparently a mild winter on the horizon, and the possibility of multiple queen survival- in addition to the increased spread of the hornet's range. None of this looks that great.

The state has installed 4 of the traps on this website (3 built by myself, and 1 by Dr. Looney), and volunteers have installed at least 14 within the Blaine area. Compared to the 2,000 bottle traps out there now, those numbers aren't too significant- and it seems unlikely to me that the two, a hornet and this trap,would cross paths. But should no colony be found- then the stakes go up. Bee hives are a proven bait- and though only one hive to date has suffered attack, that we know of, increased colonies will increase the chances, and necessity.

 When I look at the spread of hornets on a map- there are certainly anomalies. Nanaimo apparently has reported more finds (though B.C., for some reason, remains silent on it's data and doesn't appear to have done much), and even Bellingham, well away from Blaine,  has an early find. 

These are big animals. And being big, they are built to fly well, and to fly long distances. Hence the power of "hornet juice"- the saliva of larva that adults feed off of, and which allow an increased range. It makes total sense- a big insect needs extra power to move outside its home colony's range to reach new feeding grounds- and because it can, the spread is rapid. An animal with legs only- like an ant- is going to take a lot longer. Thus- this is very serious. 

The hornet isn't the first invasive animal here to challenge beekeeping here- it's just the biggest, and scariest. I'm (personally) not afraid of tracheal mites, or Varroa mites- both invasive and with impacts way out of proportion to their sizes- but the AGH has that extra power- of being a danger to a beekeeper.

I saw today a Bald Faced Hornet (another Vespa, or two (I think?) in this country besides AGH) land on a landing board like a YJ and try to get in. I have a great fear of them (having been badly stung once by an attack), and I could feel my fear. I can't imagine not freaking out entirely with AGH's around- and my hives drawing them in. My safety, my family's, me neighbors- even if I could somehow protect my hives, I couldn't keep bees if other people live nearby. So- it's a very big deal, and I imagine plenty of people feel the same way.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Update- September Trap Building

I built 3 hive traps for WSU's hives, and Dr. Chris Looney picked them up, and as I now understand, they have been installed in strategic locations near where recent sightings and captures of the AGH have occurred, generally in the Custer area, west of Bellingham. They are part of a multi-prong attempt to bait at least one live worker specimen of the AGH before winter closes in. Last year's single known hive attack, at Ted McFall's hive, happened in November. Which to me seems late for an insect to still be feeding larva, and hoping to make reproductive- including actual mating during our wettest and windiest month- but apparently this insect like's it this way. Reminds it of Hokkaido.

I volunteered to make this small batch of traps, as.Dr Looney asked for them, to augment other scent and pheromone based bottle traps the state is experimenting with.  This trap, of course, does right on a hive, and uses the best bait of all- an actual bee colony. It's based on trap designs tried and true- dating back to the 50s (I think) in Japan. However, it still hasn't trapped a single AGH- so  still awaits a claim to legitimacy. If the hornet proves to not be a threat, and to not have survived, or is destroyed- then I am planning on preparing plans to convert these to bird feeders. 

Below is the morning of completion-with three traps laid out. I think that makes 20 or so that I have built, and another 5 or so prototypes. I timed myself on this last round, and I believe it took 45 minutes per trap. That's going without stopping- and having everything laid out, but not cut. I have a system now- written out, should anyone in the future think they need to build more than one trap at a time- I'd be glad to send it.

This is one of my apple trees- a Gala- and my old F150 truck and long term companion of 25 years, bought when I thought it was a "big" truck- but it could pretty much fit in the bed of any of my neighbor's trucks these days. Great for hauling hives and equipment. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Worker Found, Colony Established, Good Luck All

It's past mid-August, and I just heard from Ruthie that a worker AGH was trapped in trap she'd put out.

And so it begins- a colony of hornets is out there, one at least, likely more, and only weeks to go before that colony, or those colonies, send out more queens for the next year.  It sure doesn't sound promising, but a lot of good people are on it. And- they have technology on their side- thermal sensors, DNA tests, etc.

I understand that the state is experimenting with live traps, and also experimenting with alternative baits. Those folks are awesome, and I am super impressed.

However, it remains true, that what the AGH really wants isn't bait in a trap, but a hive or two. And for that, one wants a hive trap. I'm not sure I understand the scene exactly in Japan, but mu sense is that if you are a beekeeper, you install hive traps. Now that we know that there is  colony out there, this seems to me to be  real incentive to build and install them, in addition to the bottle traps.

They are easy to build, and cheap. If someone doesn't have the tools or know how, but is in the area and wants one, I  can build them one.  Just email me or let me know. I'm south, down in Duvall, but I'm sure we could arrange a midpoint.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

First Trap Shipment Heads North

This morning, the first shipment of Asian Giant Hornet traps were sent north to Blaine. I did a three day push to build 12 traps, and added that to two I had already built, so was able to send 14. They were picked up by Ruthie Danielson this morning, and are on their way north as I write.

14 isn't  a heck of a lot, but it's all I could do in the time period I had. Hopefully, if these work, and are needed, some other folks with woodworking skills can pitch in as well.

Here they are awaiting shipment, with Ted, my quality control cat. Six are for eight frame hives, and the rest are for tens:

Making the wood part of the traps is easy- It took 3 hours to make the trap frames, from hauling the lumber into my shop, to  finishing the frames. That includes cutting all the pieces and sanding them (necessary as cheap cedar is pretty hairy stuff, but time consuming) , stapling them together, and cutting all the holes, including side entry holes.

I then decided to paint them as well, which really isn't necessary, so that took another three hours.

Then there was cutting and pre-bending all the mesh pieces, and cutting and bending 30 tetrahedron traps. That had to be 4 hours, at least. Then finally, installing the mesh and traps, mostly screwing it in, but also stapling it. That's another 3 hours at least.

So it probably ends up being and hour and a half a trap or something, that could really be lessened by not sanding, and not painting. I don't really see a way yet of reducing any other parts of the process, except by stapling the screens, and not screwing the down.

Materials wise, I think I used up about 20 or so boards, two rolls of hardware cloth, and a bunch of staples and screws. Not expensive at all.

My hope is that one of these catches a hornet!

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

AGH Season Begins

It's a week into August, and we now know for sure that there is at least one AGH colony established near Blaine. It's anybody's guess if there are more colonies or not, but it sure seems likely to me, considering the ideal environment they've landed in, and the unlikelihood that from last year's colonies (plural- as there must have been at least two to allow mating), only one queen was established.  That would seem far too good to be true.

However, even if there are multiple colonies, it doesn't mean that they will attack area hives this year. There are plenty of other protein sources available, the multiple species of Yellow Jackets being one option, and it's a very large area for them to hide in. 

Although the State is happy to learn that the syrup traps actually work, and (I read) are considering using drones to find hives (unclear on this- in the ground? Is there a thermal footprint even?), it still seems to me that integrating live traps would be very helpful. Catching a living AGH means it could potentially be tracked back to its source. 

I don't know if anyone is actually going to build any of these traps or not (except for Howard, who built two to test the design, I know of no others), but I am proceeding this week to build 20, and Ruth Danielson (the volunteer organizer for the trapping ) is going to pick them up and distribute them. These are for folks near the Blaine "epicenter", and if you're near there, and want at trap, let me know and I'll see if I can arrange it.

Should be an interesting few months!