CLOSE

A small number of Asian giant hornet sightings in the Pacific Northwest has raised alarm. Wochit

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

An officer with the New York Police Department’s bee keepers unit told local media the arrival of Asian giant hornets, now commonly called "murder hornets," in Washington state has sent him into "preparation mode."

He also shared a shocking story of how Japanese honeybees have learned to protect themselves from the terrifying predators known for their ability to slaughter honeybees en masse.

The honeybees allow the hornet into their nest, then encircle the much larger hornet. A mass of tightly-packed bees use quick movements to create a ball of heat that becomes fatal to the hornet, which can withstand slightly lower temperatures than the honeybees.

The bees "ball 'em and cook 'em and raise the body temperature ... just enough to kill and cook the hornet," officer Darren Mays explained to a stunned reporter in a clip posted on Twitter by PIX11 News' Cristian Benavides.

It's an adaptation that is unique to a specific type of Asian honeybee, Dr. Timothy Lawrence — County Director of Washington State University Extension, Island County — explained to USA TODAY.

The effort protects the vulnerable bees better than the alternative used by bees elsewhere in the world: Attempting to take on the massive predator outside the hive. Lawrence said that effort, which is how bees in America would likely respond to an Asian giant hornet, is a fatal mistake.

Since bees in the U.S. are unlikely to protect themselves in the same way, efforts are underway on the West Coast to track the spread of the hornets and trap the predators before they spread widely.

Meanwhile on the East Coast, the NYPD beekeeping unit is prepping for the possible eventual spread of the predators, Mays told WPIX.

"I go not into panic mode but into preparation mode," he told the station. "If it was to come here, it would be via transport."

The NYPD's beekeeping department includes one officer who works weekday swarms and another who covers nights and weekends, according to a 2018 profile in The New Yorker. They occasionally make headlines for removing large swarms of bees from public places around New York.

NYPD: A swarm of 25,000 bees took over a Staten Island Ferry terminal, until police removed them

NYPD: Thousands of bees swarm a Times Square hot dog stand

The danger of an Asian giant hornet to the average person is low at this time, Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney told USA TODAY. But the predators kill between 40 and 50 people annually in Japan – many victims suffer from allergies, but some have died from the potency of the venom alone, he said.

Mays advised New Yorkers who spot large hornets to steer clear.

"Don't be curious just let them be," he told WPIX. "It's not going to go out of its way and sting you purposefully."

Lawrence said the best way to keep yourself safe when you encounter a hornet is to elude it, rather than outrun it.

'Murder Hornets' are in the United States: These other dangerous bugs are more common

Asian giant hornets spotted in the US: What are 'Murder Hornets' and should I be worried?

Look for bushes or trees to weave through; find a car or a building to seek shelter in. You won't be able to outrun a hornet in an open field, Lawrence said.

Asian giant hornet sightings have been limited to the Pacific Northwest, although the smaller European hornet is sometimes mistaken for the Asian giant hornet on the East Coast. While experts have been tracking the invasive species in the U.S. for months, a New York Times feature published Saturday raised alarm and brought the fittingly upsetting nickname to the national consciousness. 

Follow N'dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions
LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/05/06/murder-hornets-nypd-beekeeping-unit-prepares-asian-giant-hornets/5175557002/