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Beekeepers and gardeners are on alert for the Yellow Legged Hornet


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.


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...


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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Benjamin Payne