The Invasion of Europe Was Started by a Single Giant Queen “Murder Hornet”

It is well known that invasive species may spread quickly through unprepared ecosystems, causing havoc.

The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina), which feeds on honeybees, hoverflies, and other insects, is a typical example, growing its area by more than 80 kilometers (50 miles) a year.

The big, tiny stingers, often known as “murder hornets,” first appeared in Europe about 20 years ago. They eventually crossed the channel and were discovered in the UK in 2016.

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According to a genetic study, one wasp presumably moved from China to France in 2004 as the cause of their quick and broad invasion across the west.

“Our research has revealed the remarkable potential for population expansion of eusocial insects in invaded areas, even when original genetic diversity is shallow,” says University College Cork ecologist Simon Harrison.

who murdered single giant queen
who murdered single giant queen

Eileen Dillane, a biologist at University College Cork, and her team examined three genes from the Asian hornet, which first arrived in Ireland in April 2021, and compared them to wasp sequences found throughout continental Europe. The mitochondrial genes carried down the female line made up all the genes.

“Earlier work had demonstrated that Asian hornets in Europe shared the same genetic lineage, based on studies of a single gene. We took this a step further and looked at two additional genes which would be more sensitive in detecting variation within the invasive population,” explains Dillane.

The findings showed that the maternal wasp line discovered in Dublin was the same as that found throughout Europe.

“Our results and those of other groups suggest that the entire population of V. velutina in Europe, now potentially numbering many millions of individuals, are descended from a single mated queen arriving from China some 15–20 years ago,” the team writes in their paper.

The Asian hornet feeds on Asian honeybees, which have sophisticated warning and prey defense mechanisms, in its native South-East Asia. They’ll swarm an invading wasp in a bee ball and overheat it to death. Sadly, European honeybees lack these defense mechanisms, making them easy prey for wasps, raising concerns for the continent’s pollination services.

Despite having a painful sting that some individuals may be allergic to, Asian wasps are fortunately not aggressive toward people, unlike European wasps.

According to Dillane and colleagues, the shallow genetic diversity of the V. velutina population in Europe may offer a chance for biological management.

Unfortunately, the researchers also warn, “climate change is likely to increase the threat of a successful invasion in the future, so vigilance against this species must be maintained.”

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