Yellow-Legged hornet found, new season of tracking and eradicating begins

GDA Plant Protection Division inspector checks a trap for the Yellow-Legged hornets
In this undated photo, a GDA Plant Protection Division inspector checks a trap for the Yellow-Legged hornet in the Savannah area. GDA will place 1,000 traps in the area this year. (Special Photo/GDA)

A Yellow-Legged hornet queen and her nest were eradicated on April 12 in Savannah, signaling that the invasive species is still in Georgia.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture began tracking the Yellow-Legged hornets when a Savannah area beekeeper discovered them in August, 2023. Before cold weather set in, GDA personnel had eliminated five nests, all in the Savannah area near Thunderbolt and Wilmington Island.

A citizen reported a recent nest found at a private residence. The nest was small and described as an embryo nest. A mated queen Yellow-Legged hornet overwinters or hibernates. The queen emerges in the spring, finds a food source, establishes an embryo nest, and begins producing workers.

GDA Plant Protection Program Director Mike Evans described last year's tracking and trapping for the Yellow-Legged hornet as a success because of how quickly GDA teams deployed and the number of nests found. He said they will build on last year's efforts this spring with more firepower regarding traps, tracking technology, and people in the field.

"We're going to hire some part-time people in the Savannah area to do the trapping for us because we plan to put out more (traps)," Evans said. "We put out 170 traps last year. We want to put out around a thousand this year and be sure that we have good trapping density around the area. That's where those new positions will be helpful."

Also, inspectors will use small electronic tracking devices to place on captured hornets. Evans said agricultural authorities in Europe had success in using small electronic devices in conjunction with the visual directional tracking used by GDA teams last year.

Public awareness efforts will also ramp up. GDA Plant Protection has printed plastic-coated Yellow-Legged hornet identification cards and is distributing them to the area's pest management technicians and arborists. Evans said they will encourage residents to make their own traps and report any possible sightings.

The GDA has an instructional video on making a Yellow-Legged hornet trap at the webpage, along with the latest updates and information. Residents can use an online form to report sightings at a link located at the bottom of the GDAs Yellow-Legged Hornet webpage

Native to Southeast Asia, the Yellow-Legged hornet is a severe threat to native pollinators and honeybees in Georgia. They are called the "bee hawks" in that they swoop down and capture bees midair and from the front of their hives. Bee experts said a few hornets could depopulate an apiary in days.

Greg Stewart, president of the Coastal Empire Beekeepers Association, said beekeepers were nervous when news broke about the Yellow-Legged hornet. The beekeepers prepared by receiving instruction from the University of Georgia Entomologist and Chatham County Extension Agent Timothy Davis on the Yellow-Legged hornet. The club partnered with Patrick Wilbanks of Wilbanks Apiaries in Claxton, who provided the club with nets and containers for anyone to use to capture a hornet.

"So between those two, we got educated on what to look for, how to observe at our bee colony, and then if we caught, captured or killed anything, we would immediately contact Mr. Evans, and they would come out right away," Stewart said. Stewart added it was a testament to CEBA members who worked to get educated about the Yellow-Legged hornet and now know what to do if they have a possible sighting.

"The state Ag department, Dr. Davis, had everything ready for us, so we would try to get a specimen," Stewart said. "They had an online form that we could fill out, and they would follow up within days and take over the research part of tracking the hornet."

Stewart said his club will continue with education efforts among its 161 members across Chatham, Liberty and Bryan counties and keep up to date with information from GDA and UGA Extension.

Along with UGA Extension, GDA is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Clemson University, and the University of Florida to track and eradicate the Yellow-Legged hornet.

Three years with zero reports of Yellow-Legged hornets is the standard for declaring a complete eradication. Seven nests have been found and eradicated in Georgia. On April 2, a resident found a Yellow-Legged hornet embryo nest in Beaufort County, SC. Inspectors from Clemson University's Department of Plant Industry took the nest and specimen for study.

Visit the GDAs Yellow-Legged Hornet webpage at The GDA also has a Facebook page: Georgia Hornet Watch.