Montana State University graduate student Erik Norderud, along with Professor Bob Peterson and Associate Professor Scott Powell have published their findings on Asian giant hornets in the Journal of Insect Science.
Though there have been no confirmed sightings or established colonies in Montana, understanding their behavioral patterns and preferred habitat is incredibly useful in tracking their progress, Peterson explains.
“This insect is a serious pest because it attacks in masses and destroys honey bee hives,” Peterson said. “It will kill all the worker bees and then spend several days after that feeding on the immature and destroying an entire bee colony, and of course, honey bees are so critical for pollinating lots of crops for food that we like and that we depend on.”
Montana Department of Agriculture State Entomologist Alyssa Piccolomini knows this all too well. Piccolomini says Montana is usually ranked as a top-five honey producing state, with about 650 registered beekeepers who keep around 270,000 colonies.
“Asian giant hornets can decimate a colony within a few hours, and the honeybee production is so important to not only Montana agriculture, but the agriculture industry in general—this could leave a lasting impact on our industry,” Piccolomini said.
Researching, analyzing, and compiling data, the team took a close look at colonies throughout the Pacific Northwest, to see where this invasive hornet could establish.
“It really depends on the right climate, the right temperatures, and the right tree cover. They really like forested areas with lots of tree cover, and of course Montana has lots of tree cover in the western part of our state,” Peterson said.
Ranking different counties on a scale of low, medium and high risk, the findings were that the coastline of Washington State and Oregon would be ideal establishment locations for the Asian Giant Hornets. Although, Lewis and Clark County in Montana has many honey bee hives as well as forest cover.
Different factors that would affect a county's risk level include the number of honeybee hives, large transportation hubs, and forest cover.