What South Dakota’s Beekeepers Have to Say About the Threat of Murder Hornets

May 13, 2020

Murder Hornets captured the news cycle early May when the giant, 2-inch yellow and black native to Southeast Asia was discovered 1400 miles away in Blaine, Washington. Capable of killing an entire colony of 60,000 honeybees in just a few short hours - SDPB’s Lura Roti reached out to learn what South Dakota’s beekeepers and entomologists have to say about the Asian Giant Hornet.     

 

Bret Adee: “There’s always a bug that wants to eat a bug... It is not a situation where you’ve never seen a beehive predatorized by another insect, but this one looks particularly vicious.”  

That’s second-generation South Dakota beekeeper Bret Adee. Together with his family, Bret owns Adee Honey. Headquartered in Bruce, Adee Honey is the largest producer of honey in the U.S. The Adee family are among the state’s more than 330 beekeepers who put South Dakota on the map as the second largest producer of honey in the nation. 

Because of its growing-season climate of cool nights and warm days and miles upon miles of sweet clover, alfalfa fields and native prairie, South Dakota provides excellent habitat for bees to produce premium honey.

 

Bret Adee: “The Upper Midwest has a very light delicate flavor because of the sweet clovers and the legumes that grow on the prairies here make some of the finest honey’s in the world.” 

 

This same habitat that impacts honey quality, should protect South Dakota’s honeybees from the insect nicknamed Murder Hornet, explains Amanda Bachmann, Pesticide Education, and Urban Entomology Field Specialist for SDSU Extension. 

 

Amanda Bachmann: “In South Dakota we have the benefit of being a lot of prairie, these insects do like using forests for their lifecycle. … Even though we do have some trees in this state, we do also have more extreme temperatures than the Pacific Northwest.”

 

So, about those South Dakota winters. It’s interesting to note, honeybees can survive the state’s extreme winter weather. Feeding on honey reserves and vibrating their wings, they use their body heat to maintain a consistent temperature of about 95 degrees within the hive. However, most beekeepers don’t overwinter their bees in South Dakota. Bret Adee says in addition to honey production, beekeepers earn an income pollinating agriculture crops across the nation.  

 

Bret Adee: “We like to get them all placed on almond ranches by February 14th for the almond bloom. After the almonds are done the majority of the bees will go in to the south to be restocked with queens to breed the bees. What we don’t take there will go up the West Coast and pollinate other crops. They will pollinate blueberries, pollinate cherries, pollinate apples, anyway, it’s a lot of fun to see which crops your bees help produce.” 

 

Because bees don’t stay in South Dakota year-round, Bret’s brother, Kelvin says beekeepers are encouraged to hear the Washington State Department of Agriculture believes they have the Asian Giant Hornet under control. Kelvin serves as President of the American Honey Producers Association. 

 

Kelvin Adee: “We support the Federal and State officials working on it right now trying to manage the risk. So far, they believe it is quarantined in Washington. We don’t need it across the rest of the U.S. - obviously.” 

 

Because there’s no chance the Asian Giant Hornet will migrate to South Dakota this growing season, summer 2020 Amanda Bachmann is more concerned about what the media hype surrounding this hornet will do to South Dakota’s largest wasp. Even though the Cicada Killer is harmless, males don’t even have stingers, because of its size and color, she fears folks could confuse the two. 

 

Amanda Bachmann: “Cicada Killers are actually pretty chill. The female Ciada Killer wasp is hunting in the trees for Ciadas which is what she feeds to her larvae. They are actually solitary wasp. So, unlike the Asian Giant Hornet, the Cicada Killer is working independently to provision for her nest. Whereas the Asian Giant Hornet a social insect and has a hive full of workers. Much like we think of with the honeybees. The male Ciada Killers are the ones that will buzz sort of around your yard because they petrol their territory. While this may looks scary, they actually are totally harmless because they don’t have a stinger, even though they look threatening they can’t actually hurt you.” 

 

To help protect honeybees, Amanda encourages South Dakotans to plant a greater variety of flowers so bees have nectar all season long. For South Dakota Public Broadcasting, I’m Lura Roti.  

 

If you want to see the Asian Giant Hornet and Cicada Killers there are pictures with this story at sdpb.org.  

 

Click here to watch a phone recording of the bee farm.