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!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

3 Day Countdown

As  eventually with almost all news, the "murder hornet" story has wandered off the front pages, and what seemed like impending invasion, has been buried in other news- and the hope that 1700 syrup traps spread throughout the area will catch at least a few of the hornets, should they be out there, and the state will track those hives down and kill them.

Since none have been caught to date, it is starting to seem that they haven't in fact established colonies, as unlikely as that sounds, given the ideal habitat and earlier sightings.

In the coming month, worker hornets, if there are any out there, turn to hunting for protein sources, and it is for this stage that the hive trap is designed. Syrup traps will not be as attractive during this time- so these sorts of traps could prove to be effective.

Unfortunately, is this is correct, there are only five in existence right now. Three are here, too far away to do any good,  and two others were built by a woodworker in Bellingham, one currently installed on a hive there. So- pretty much just one anywhere near the hornet.

It also takes time to get a hive used to it- not something that one should do at the last minute. I have a trap on a hive that's  been there for more than a month- and the bees still aren't used to it. A week seems minimum.

I'd build a bunch and ship them up there, but I'm not sensing there is much of an interest at this point. Maybe there will be later- I hope not- but it's going to be too late anyway to do much about it then.

Monday, July 6, 2020

25 Day Countdown

In a little over three weeks there's the potential that the AGH will be attacking hives near the border. Possibly elsewhere- Nanaimo, Bellingham, and points in between.

The State of Washington, together with Whatcom volunteers, has installed 900 syrup bottle traps, in the hopes of catching hornets before they attack. The sap traps were  unsuccessful earlier-  but it is hoped these have more success. I believe that B.C has set up some trapping on Vancouver Island, but oddly, nowhere else.

I assume that the idea of using bottle traps came from the advice of experienced Japanese entomologists and apiarists. All a good thing- they would know best.

However- the bait in that case is sweetness- carbs that are needed by adult hornets- and at some point as summer progresses- as I understand it at least- that desire lessens- and the desire for protein increases dramatically.

The hornets shift focus,

What happens? What happens is that they need protein, and lots of it,  to make reproductives.. Adult hornets, astonishingly enough, can't eat solid food. Their throats are too small. Thus when they need to feed themselves only, syrup traps work. But as larva hatch and grow, they need to  feed  them protein, often solid food, and- this is as sci-fi as it gets-  when they feed their larvae, the larvae feed them a drop of saliva. They subsist at that point primarily on larvae saliva, which has mysterious chemistry to it and allows these large wasps to fly 100 km if they need to.

At that point,  they don't need syrup.

Thoraxes of course are filled with lots of meat- muscles for both the legs and the wings. Insects, unlike vertebrates, did not develop wings from legs- like bats and birds, For insects, they are a completely a  new appendage, developed om their own- with their own muscles. You get legs and wing muscles are extra when you eat a thorax. Sort of a Double Mint Gum sort of thing. But even better- you get four sets of wing muscles (insects are an odd collection of multiples of twos and threes), and six sets of leg muscles. A chicken is a poor comparison. Lots to chew on. Though unfortunately, if you are an  an adult wasp, you can't eat any of it. Its just for the kids.

Bees are thus a prime target when hornets need to feed queen and drone larvae. A hive is a massive candy box of thoraxes, and larvae. As are other colonies of  social insects, like other wasps (like YJs- though no one know if they will succumb as  as they haven't met yet). As Rusty Burlew has pointed on her website- AGHs are doing nothing more than other creatures do- just trying to get by. But come August- the need for protein is great, and a nice Langstroth hive is  like a delivery from Amazon- easy to open and convenient.

And that's where the traditional hive trap on this site comes into play.  It is meant to protect a hive- and to catch hornets. Catching a live hornet is so much more important the a dead one.  A live one can be let go and tracked, and the parent hive destroyed. It will be a great benefit to trap a live hornet.

A bottle trap won't do that- you just get a drowned hornet.
Trap by Howard June 2020

But one can't wait until the last minute. It takes time to make a trap (It takes me an hour- but I think I can get this down to 30 minutes), and it takes time to get a hive used to it. You can't just stick one on your hive they day the hornets show up. Your bees need a week- at least- to learn how to get in and out without exposing themselves.

It's not the only way to protect hives- screens (of many kinds) and sticky boards are options too- and Matsuura in his paper suggests 10 screen preventers to each hive trap- but the hive trap is essential.

Build one!

In any case- it's what I'd do if I were there- though  I'm not- and as I have stated elsewhere, I've never seen or trapped a giant hornet, so can't speak from experience. All I can really say is that these are used in Japan, and sold by Japanese beekeeping vendors, and has been used at least since the 1950s. So has some track record at least.

Good luck Northern beekeepers!