We are only 5 months into the year 2020, and already it has become a year that will go down in history as one of the most momentous years ever. The decade started off with massive fires in Australia and floods in Indonesia, the death of Kobe Bryant, and events that many feared would lead to World War III. In February, massive swarms of locust in East Africa destroyed crops leading Somalia to declare a national emergency. Underlying all of these events was the growing worry that the coronavirus first spotted in Wuhan, China would break through it’s borders and spread through the world. These concerns were not unfounded. By March 1, 2020 the first reported case of COVID19 was reported in New York. Soon countries around the world were enacting stay at home orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus, giving healthcare workers a chance to get ahead of the disease. For close to 2 months now the majority of the United States has been in a state of lock down. We have adjusted to the new reality of social distancing, working from home, and an abundance of online shopping. We cannot be entirely sure when lock down regulations will be eased, but it is safe to say that many of us have found a way to be comfortable with our new reality. Then, just as we were starting to accept this new reality, a new threat has been introduced into our news stream, Murder Hornets!
Murder Hornets, otherwise known as Asian Giant Hornets are native to East and South Asia, Mainland Southeast Asia, and parts of Eastern Russia. They are the largest hornets in the world measuring up to 2 inches long, with a 3 inch wing span and a 0.24 inch long stinger. Besides their large body, Murder Hornets have a distinctive orange head with black eyes. It’s large stinger carries a potent neurotoxin that in large enough doses, stings from multiple hornets, could kill a person even if they aren’t allergic to bee stings. In 2013, stings form Murder Hornets caused severe injuries in 1,600 people and the deaths of 41 people in Shaanix, China. Masato Ono, an entomologist from Tokyo, describes the sting as feeling “Like a hot nail being driven into my leg.”
Though Murder Hornets are known to be a bit more aggressive towards humans, for the most part they behave like other hornet and bee species, only attacking when provoked. However, when it comes to the way they prey on other insects, they can be viciously aggressive. A tell tale sign of a Murder Hornet attack is a collection of insect heads that they leave behind after decapitating their prey. Because of their large size and potent venom, Murder Hornets can easily overpower other insects, like honeybees. The sting from another insect will have little effect on the Murder Hornet. Murder Hornets can decimate entire hives of honeybees. As the world has already seen a decline in bee populations that serve as vital agriculture pollinators, this poses a serious concern. Luckily a beekeeper and a drone company from France came up with a solution several years back.
In 2016, France was experiencing it’s own invasion from Murder Hornets. Etienne Roumailhac, a beekeeper from Landes, was determined to find a way to protect his hives from the devastating Murder Hornets, while not negatively impacting the environment. He had been relying on using a truck with a cherry picker to reach and spray the nests. Not only was this dangerous, but it was extremely time consuming and costly. So he reached out to Drone Volt, a company that makes commercial civilian grade drones based out of Villepinte, FR. One of the founding principle of Drone Volt, what drew Etienne to them, is working in a way that protects the environment. As stated on their website, “Our drones are based on more sustainable electrical technology. They generate 0% CO2 and thus help reduce the environmental impact of our partners.”
Drone Volt created a new drone called the Spray Hornet that allows licensed professionals to safely and quickly attack any invasive wasp or hornet nest. First the drone can quickly fly up to inspect areas that a nest is believed to be hiding. The drone’s camera can determine if there is more than one nest in the area, or if there are any other animals like birds that could be in danger from the hornets. Next the drone can successfully spray the nest with an approved insecticide. The drone is able to precisely apply the insecticide into the center of the nest, targeting where the hornets are congregated, because of its specially angled aerosol spray can. There is no need to send someone up in a cherry picker to reach the nest, a situation that puts them dangerously high in the air, close to angry hornets, and in close proximity to the chemicals being used.
It is believed that Murder Hornets were introduced to France in the late 1990’s in a pottery shipment that came from China. Since then, the population grew, killing millions of honeybees. The Spray Hornet drone became a vital tool in tackling this predator while keeping costs down and people safe. As of now, Murder Hornets have only been spotted in Washington State in the US. But just like how the coronavirus rapidly spread through the country, exterminators are rushing to stop swarms of the hornets from spreading as well. Whether or not they will be using a drone like the Spray Hornet has not been confirmed. But, considering how vastly drones are being used in the US now, it is very likely that drones could play a major role in curbing an infestation of Murder Hornets.