In August 2023, the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA), in coordination with the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) and the University of Georgia, confirmed the presence of a yellow-legged hornet (YLH; Vespa velutina) near Savannah, Ga.
This is the first time a live specimen of this species has been detected in the open United States. Yellow-legged hornets, often referred to as Asian hornets, are a species of large hornets native to Southeast Asia.
Scientifically known as Vespa velutina, these insects have become a subject of concern in regions outside their native range due to their aggressive nature and potential impact on local ecosystems, as well as their propensity to harm honeybee populations. Yellow-legged hornets are distinctively colored, featuring a predominantly black body with a bright yellow-orange thorax, hence their common name.
They have a similar body shape to other hornets, with a robust build and two pairs of wings. Adult workers typically range from 17 to 32 mm in length, with queens being slightly larger. Originally native to Southeast Asia, specifically China and the Indochinese region, yellow-legged hornets have expanded their range into Europe, including countries like France, Spain, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.
They were first reported in France in 2004 and have since spread rapidly across Europe. Yellow-legged hornets are known for their predatory behavior. They primarily feed on other insects, including bees, wasps, and flies, which they capture and return to their nests to feed their larvae. They are also known to scavenge for sugary substances such as fruit and nectar. These hornets construct large, papery nests made of chewed-up wood pulp. Nests are often found high up in trees, but they can also be located in man-made structures like buildings and sheds.
A mature nest can contain thousands of hornets, including workers, drones, and a queen. One of the significant concerns associated with yellow-legged hornets is their impact on honeybee populations. They are skilled bee predators and can pose a significant threat to honeybee hives. They capture bees in flight, decapitate them, and bring the bee thoraxes back to their nests to feed their larvae.
This predation can weaken and devastate bee colonies. Like other hornets and wasps, yellow-legged hornets can deliver painful stings if they perceive a threat to their nest. While their stings are generally not lethal to humans, some individuals may experience severe allergic reactions.
It’s important to exercise caution when encountering these hornets. Efforts to control yellow-legged hornets in areas where they have become invasive include nest destruction and trapping. Monitoring programs have also been implemented to track their spread and assess the extent of their impact on local ecosystems. The first Georgia yellow-legged hornet nest was spotted in August 2023 by a Savannah beekeeper who reported the sighting to the state agency.
A second yellow-legged hornet nest was located in September 2023 on Wilmington Island near Savannah, Georgia. After the second nest was eradicated, Lewis Bartlett with the University of Georgia and Jamie Ellis with the University of Florida examined it and identified developing hornets within the nest, according to the release.
State officials also wrote Bartlett and Ellis found no evidence of the reproductive males or queens in the colony when it was destroyed.
If you have spotted a yellow-legged hornet the GDA has a form you can complete. The agency advises taking photos of the hornets and comparing their appearance to pictures available on the USDA website, as they can look similar to native species that pose no threat. The GDAs asks people to include the following information with form submissions:
- Name and contact information
- Location and date of the sighting
- If possible, a photograph of the hornet. If not, a description of the size of the insect, the color of the head and body, and what it was doing
- Location and approximate height of the nest (if found)
- The direction the hornet(s) flew when flying away
- Wilmington Island is a picturesque barrier island situated just east of Savannah, Georgia. Known for its scenic beauty and proximity to the historic city, the island offers a blend of suburban living and coastal charm. With a rich history dating back to colonial times, Wilmington Island boasts a variety of residential neighborhoods, recreational opportunities, and waterfront views along its marshes and tidal creeks. The island is well-connected to Savannah via Johnny Mercer Boulevard, making it a desirable residential area for those seeking both a tranquil coastal lifestyle and easy access to the amenities and cultural offerings of Savannah. [Back]
- “‘A deadly predator’: 2nd yellow-legged hornet nest, murder hornet’s relative, found in GA” (Sept 21, 2023) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2023/09/21/yellow-legged-hornet-nest-found-georgia-murder-hornet/70918203007/
- “This Invasive Hornet Is Sparking Alarm in Georgia — Find Out Why It Poses a Threat Elsewhere” (August 17, 2023) https://katiecouric.com/news/yellow-legged-asian-hornet-danger-risk/
- “Asian hornet” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_hornet